Mar 03

Prayers For Rusty

I knew Rusty Staub wasn’t in good health since his heart attack in October 2015 on a flight home from Ireland. Now, I read in The Post where he is battling kidney failure.

He’s not responding to dialysis and that’s not good at all. When his friends are requesting prayers, it’s chilling news, as a matter, of fact.

STAUB: Prayers for Rusty.

STAUB: Prayers for Rusty.

“Fred and Jeff Wilpon have been in contact with Rusty to wish him well,’’ the Mets said in a statement. “In addition, multiple people in our organization have also been in contact with Rusty. All of us wish Rusty and his loved ones well in his courageous battle.’’

We all have our own memories of Rusty. I have two, one as a player, and one of him personally.

As a player, I always knew he was a great hitter. Not a power hitter, but a somebody you always wanted up in the clutch.

It was during the NLCS in 1973 against Cincinnati – the one with the Bud HarrelsonPete Rose brawl – but my enduring memory came in the 11th inning of Game 4 when Staub crashed into the right field wall to rob Dan Driessen of extra-bases.

Staub sustained a separated shoulder that kept him out of Game 5 of the NLCS and Game 1 of the World Series against Oakland. Despite playing in considerable pain and unable to throw, he managed to hit .423 with a homer and six RBI in the Series and needed the center fielder and/or second baseman to take his weak throws.

It was one of the most remarkable performances while playing injured in franchise history.

I always admired him for that, for his help and financial aid to first responders, plus his expertise as a wine sommelier. Oh yeah, I always liked his ribs.

But, I covered the Yankees at the time and never had an opportunity to cross paths with him. Anyway, I was at Logan Airport one day waiting to board a flight that was delayed when I looked up from my paper and noticed Staub buried in a magazine.

I walked up to him, introduced myself and told him how much I admired him for his performance in the 1973 Series. I only wanted to say hello, but he was so gracious and we wound up talking for the rest of the delay about a myriad of topics.

Of course, I had a lot of questions for him but didn’t gush over him, but he also had many for me. I’ve seen him at Shea Stadium a number of times since and he remembered and was always gracious.

One of my favorite Mets, most definitely, and he’s in my prayers. I hope he’s in yours, too.

 

Feb 14

Forget NBA, Baseball Still Has Best All-Star Game

For all the tinkering Major League Baseball does with its All-Star Game, it remains superior to the other All-Star Games, including the one we’ll see Sunday night.

Of course, all are commercialized to death, but the baseball edition still is played as a sport. They still play the game, unlike basketball and football, where defense is forgotten and it’s mostly showboating.

Those two are basically pick-up games.

I like the baseball game better because performances have to be earned. It’s also that way in hockey, where not much of anything can be predicted. The batter still has to hit the ball, whereas the basketball game can easily be taken over by a singular player.

In football, with no blitzing, there aren’t many quarterbacks who can’t light up a secondary.

This might sound weird, but one of the reasons I like the baseball game better is that players wear their own uniforms. In that, you get a sense of team. You don’t get in the other games, with the exception of football and their helmets.

Another reason is history.

Selected games in all sports have their moments, but there is a history, a tradition, to the baseball game. Ted Williams’ game-winning homer in 1941 in Detroit; Reggie Jackson going off the light tower, also in Detroit; the 15-inning 1967 game in Anaheim, when pitchers actually pitched, with Catfish Hunter going five innings in relief; Pete Rose running over Ray Fosse; Johnny Callison winning the 1964 game at Shea Stadium; how New York buzzed over Matt Harvey two years ago.

There are so many more, but after awhile the dunks all look the same in the NBA game. And, please, the fashion week adds nothing.

Jan 24

Missing Ernie Banks

This one hurts. Ernie Banks, “Mr. Cub,’’ passed away last night at 83.

Unquestionably, one of the highlights about covering baseball was meeting the game’s greats from when I first started following the sport. Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Pete Rose, Al Kaline, Tom Seaver and, of course, Banks.

Mets’ fans, of course, should remember Banks from the 1969 season when he was one of the few likable members of the Cubs. Some might actually have felt sympathy for Banks as he missed the playoffs for yet, another year.

Banks was the longtime face and persona of the Cubs. He was a Wrigley Field fixture who was a pleasant and kind visitor to opposing dugouts. Players loved to shake his hand and listen to his stories.

And, Banks loved to hold court, whether for a group or an individual. If you had a question, or just wanted to say hello, he would greet you and make one feel welcomed.

We’re in an age where too many of today’s athletes prefer to distance themselves from the public that adores them. That was never Banks. People liked him because he genuinely liked people.

The baseball world is a little poorer today without him.

Nov 23

Backman Paying His Dues; Should Get Another Chance

It is clear Wally Backman wants to manage in the major leagues. His decision this week to accept an offer to manage in the Dominican Republic indicates the Mets, and other teams, should take that pursuit seriously.

BACKMAN: Paying his dues.

BACKMAN: Paying his dues.

Backman was hired to replace the fired Jose Offerman for Licey in the winter leagues, when he could have taken the rest of the offseason off shows how badly he wants to gain experience and refine his craft.

The Mets haven’t announced it, but Backman is expected to return to manage Triple-A Las Vegas.

Backman has been trying to get another job at the major league level since he was hired, then fired, in a four-day span by Arizona ten years ago for off-the-field issues and then, according to the Diamondbacks, lying about them.

Baseball has forever been giving people second chances – excluding Pete Rose, of course – and it should be about time he’s given one. The Mets didn’t give him an opportunity to be their bench underneath Terry Collins, giving the impression he was being snubbed by his own organization.

There have been numerous managerial openings in recent winters and Backman’s phone hasn’t rung and that’s not right.

Jan 08

Tom Glavine Gets Into Hall; Examining The Process

The baseball writers got it both right and wrong with the today’s Hall of Fame announcement, and in the process issued a strong statement on the PED issue.

The no-brainers were Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas; three dominant players that did it cleanly. Glavine played for the New York Mets, as did Mike Piazza, who fell short again.

GLAVINE: Bound for Cooperstown.

GLAVINE: Bound for Cooperstown.

Maddux, Glavine and John Smoltz – the latter will be eligible next year – were the driving force behind those Atlanta teams that dominated the National League for nearly 15 years. Their manager was Bobby Cox, who will also be inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer.

While the bulk of Glavine’s numbers were compiled with the Braves, he won his 300th game as a Met, and this afternoon reflected on his time in Queens.

“I would summarize it as a great five years of my career,’’ said Glavine, who was 61-56 with a 3.97 ERA in 164 starts as a Met. Of those starts, 56 were in games he either lost or took a no-decision while giving up three or fewer runs.

“I had a lot of fun in New York,’’ Glavine continued. “I certainly made a lot of great friends there as teammates and people within the organization. It was a fun five years, albeit a tough five years at times for my family with me being gone. But it was a fun five years for them. It was a great experience being in New York and playing in New York. It’s an experience, I think, every player should have.

“I’ll always have fond memories for the Mets organization for the opportunity, but also because I won my 300th game in their uniform. That’s something I certainly will never forget.’’

Unfortunately, many Mets fans – and some in the media – won’t forget Glavine’s last game when he didn’t make it out of the first inning in the 2007 season finale. That season the Mets lost a seven-game lead with 17 to play.

“On behalf of everyone at the Mets, we congratulate Tom Glavine on his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame,’’ Mets COO Jeff Wilpon said. “We are proud that Tom won his 300th game as a Met and were fortunate to have him on our club. His excellence as a player is equaled by his excellence as a person.’’

While Glavine’s outing that afternoon represents a black cloud in Mets’ history, Piazza’s homer against Atlanta in the first game played in New York following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, authored one the franchise’s golden moments.

Piazza gained percentage points in the balloting, rising from 57.8 percent last year to 62.2 percent. That could be an encouraging sign.

“On behalf of the organization and our fans, Mike is a true Hall of Famer,’’ Wilpon said. “We proudly display his plaque in the Mets Hall of Fame, and we’re hopeful that he’ll soon have one hanging in Cooperstown.’’

It might happen eventually for Piazza, but it should happen next year for Craig Biggio, who has over 3,000 career hits, of which 1,104 were for extra bases. That’s more than Hall of Famers Rogers Hornsby, Honus Wagner, Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio.

Biggio actually has only 14 fewer extra-base hits than Thomas, whom many considered a slamdunk. Thomas was an outspoken critic of PED usage as a player and reiterated his position today.

“I’ve got to take the right stance, too,’’ Thomas said. “No, they shouldn’t get in. There shouldn’t be cheating allowed to get into the Hall of Fame.

“What I did was real that’s why I’ve got this smile on my face right now because of the writers. They definitely got it right.’’

Biggio is one I believe the writers got wrong. Also, Piazza. The others are debatable. Biggio should be rectified next year as he only fell two votes shy.

It’s unlikely Piazza will make up the percentage points needed to reach the mandatory 75 percent by next year. While there is no documented link to PED use by Piazza, steroids remained a hot button issue, one not likely to go away soon.

Roger Clemens dropped from 37.6 to 35.4 percent of the vote; Barry Bonds fell from 36.2 to 34.7 percent; Sammy Sosa went from 16.9 to 11.0 percent; and Rafael Palmeiro dropped off the ballot completely, going from 8.8 to 4.4 percent.

I did not vote for any player linked to PEDs either by failing a drug test, being named on a MLB sanctioned survey, such as the Mitchell Report; or one accused on the record by another player with proof.

This did not apply to Piazza or Jeff Bagwell. It does to Bonds, Clemens, Palmeiro, Mark McGwire and Sosa.

While there is no mandate from the Hall of Fame or Major League Baseball banning PED users, there is one regarding gambling which applies to Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson.

PED use is a tangled mess in large part because it had tacit approval from Major League Baseball and Commissioner Bud Selig for allowing its use after the 1994-95 strike season – which killed the World Series in 1994 – in an effort to jack up attendance.

Some writers, such as myself, won’t vote for anybody with a PED link, but will submit an honest ballot after considerable research.

What irks me most about the process are writers who make a joke of their ballot. One Los Angeles-based writer submitted one name, Jack Morris, but ignoring 300-game winners Maddux and Glavine. What about the other nine slots? If you’re going to take the effort to vote in Morris, as I also did, how come you couldn’t find another worthy candidate?

Then there is Dan Le Batard, who gave his vote to Deadspin in form of protest. The Baseball Writers Association is researching ways to improve the process, for example allowing more than ten votes.

One suggestion I have would be to suspend Le Batard’s vote. It’s a privilege to vote, one earned after ten consecutive years in the BBWAA. It’s not a joke as Le Batard made his out to be.

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