Oct 21

The makings of a great World Series.

Two games in and I have the feeling this could be the makings of a great World Series. Could it be because we have two teams playing and we’re not caught up in a traveling circus of the Red Sox or Yankees?

Even without them playing, the Red Sox are always in the news. The Yankees have been pretty quiet, but there is the underlying assumption – perhaps coming from their fans’ sense of entitlement – CJ Wilson will come running to them.

He’s a No. 2 starter, but being the premier arm on the market he will make his money. However, he won’t be cashing any checks bearing Fred Wilpon’s signature.

If the Rangers go on to win, it could come down to a defensive misplay by by Albert Pujols in the ninth inning when he failed to field a cutoff throw which enabled Elvis Andrus to take to second and eventually scored what proved to be the winning run on back-to-back sacrifice flies by Josh Hamilton and Michael Young.

Had Pujols cut off the ball, the Cardinals could be up 2-0.

The first two games have been a study in pitching and fundamentals, and that’s what it takes to win. We should see more scoring when the Series moves to Arlington, where the weather will be warmer.

Close, tense games are only part of what makes a great World Series. There are the compelling story lines of the Rangers trying to win for the first time and the Cardinals attempting to come all the way back from a 10 1/2-game deficit on Aug. 25. It would be one of the greatest comebacks of all time.

Of course, the definitive great World Series has to go seven games. Really, outside of the 69 Mets, whose rise was one of the great baseball stories of the ages, there aren’t many Series considered great that run short.

Football season is in full swing, but I’m not ready to let go of the summer. Here’s hoping this one goes seven.

Sep 29

Beautiful history … and Reyes.

It was stunning to see the Red Sox and Braves collapse over the past month, then finally crumble last night. We witnessed two of the great finishes in history, and the nature of it reminded us again of baseball’s magical power and hold on us.

It told us again a game and season are never over until the mathematics dictate it to be true. The winters will be long in Boston – which they are used to by now – and in Atlanta. Both teams seemed givens a month ago, only to turn around and give it away.

Maybe, there will be a new curse in Boston.

A pennant race is the best baseball has to offer, and heading into September there seemed no suspense, not much to make us curious. But, as it has for generations, the sport inexplicably grabbed us by the scruff of the neck and shook us awake.

It made us scramble in the morning to find the scores, to force us to take a peak at the television in bars and restaurants, to ask a stranger if he knew what happened. I was in a restaurant last night that was pro-Boston. It was raucous early in the evening, but a deathly Buckner-like quiet at closing time.

As ugly as it was in Boston and Atlanta, it was beautiful to see in St. Petersburg and St. Louis, and magical throughout the rest of the country. It was truly something historic and made us realize nothing should be taken for granted.

As I thought about the grand scale, I recalled  of how earlier in the day Jose Reyes took his place in baseball history for granted. He got his hit, a bunt hit, then decided to pack it in. He figured the odds were in his favor, Ryan Braun wouldn’t catch him and he’d have is own secure spot in history.

He figured right, but didn’t count on how he’d be remembered. For those of us who follow the Mets, he is the franchise’s first batting champion. But, he backed in. One of the great stories in baseball lore is how Ted Williams refused to sit on his average and insisted on playing both games of a doubleheader in 1941, went six-for-eight and finished at .406.

Williams’ .406 is one of baseball’s magical numbers and we’ll forever remember him. But, there’s nothing magical, or special, about Reyes or his .335. He’s somebody history will forget, and fittingly, take for granted.

The Mets finally have a batting champion, but he’s no champ.

Jul 14

Today in Mets’ History: Bobby V. wins 1,000th game as manager.

I never covered him full time, but always recognized Bobby Valentine held a special place with Mets’ fans.

VALENTINE: A fixture in Mets lore.

Maybe it had nothing to do with the fake moustache, but perhaps that act is what endeared him to the Shea partisans. It was spontaneous, funny and above all, human. We all know ejected managers hide in the runway or somehow send messages to the dugout. Valentine was just brash in his approach.

Valentine guided the Mets to the playoffs and World Series in 2000, but his teams ran out of steam and his feud with then general manager Steve Phillips became draining.

On this date in 1971, Valentine registered his 1,000th career victory when Glendon Rusch and Armando Benitez combined to throw a one-hit shutout of the Red Sox, 2-0.

VALENTINE’s CAREER

Valentine managed Texas and the Mets, as well as two stints in Japan. He currently works for ESPN, but is constantly being mentioned when managerial openings occur.

 

May 07

Something must be done with the umpires.

Enough is enough.

Major League Baseball has long had an umpire problem. There’s never going to be perfection, and missed calls are part of the game and always will be, but it seems they are happening with more regularity.

WEST: He needs to be ejected.

Bad calls are one thing, but couple that with arrogance and it is an untenable situation, such as the one last night at Fenway Park, which figured a meltdown by Red Sox manager Terry Francona clearly initiated by two of the worst umpires in the game, Angel Hernandez and Joe West.

When Francona went out to discuss a balk call against Tim Wakefield, Hernandez ran him within seconds. The rules, ridiculous as they are, dictated an automatic ejection. Francona wanted an explanation of what Wakefield did wrong, but Hernandez never let him get a word in.

That’s a quick trigger. Umpires are supposed to be composed and show some patience, but that obviously goes against the grain with Hernandez. You must give the player or manager the opportunity to make his point.

Had Hernandez shown discretion there might not have been the subsequent meltdown.

That’s when Francona lost it and went after Hernandez, only to be intercepted by West, who has the reputation of being a hothead and wanting to interject himself into the game.

West clearly butted into a situation that didn’t involve him as Francona would say later. All he did was escalate the confrontation. There was contact made – six times according to the replay – but it was instigated by West.

Francona will obviously be fined, perhaps suspended by Commissioner Bud Selig, but West will get a pass because MLB doesn’t want to antagonize the umpires union, which, if angry enough, will take it out on the game and be confrontational all summer.

However, something needs to be done about West, who has consistently been ranked one of the worst umpires in player polls. He has the reputation of being a loose cannon and putting himself in the middle of things.

West, you might recall threw ejected two cameramen from Shea Stadium when they allowed the Mets to view a replay of a play at the plate. He’s also the one who criticized the Yankees and Red Sox for their slow play.

MLB must do something to improve the quality of umpiring. It could begin with expanded instant replay, because the objective is to get it right.

But, what I want is for each umpire to be wired so we can hear what goes on in the argument. We will be able to tell who did the instigating. Many of these arguments occur when the umps have rabbit ears and seek out the confrontation.

Having the umpires wired, and held accountable with fines and suspensions similar to the ones given the players, will help calm the waters.

The umpires are supposedly graded every year, but what is done with those who are at the bottom? Evidently not much as they return to show us their incompetence the next summer.

In the case of Joe West, he’s been a example of what is wrong with umpires. It is time the sport ejects him.

 

Dec 09

Mets coming home with scraps

Scott Boras was right, Carlos Beltran will start the season with the Mets. The Red Sox signing Carl Crawford put an official end to that wishful thinking. So, with the exception of second base, two slots in the rotation and the bullpen, the Mets are set for 2011.

Sandy Alderson said he wouldn’t make a splash and he has been true to his word. Alderson said last night it would be highly unlikely the Mets would leave Orlando today with a starting pitcher. There’s still interest in Chris Young, but he’s thinking $5 million a year while the Mets are thinking less than half that. They are talking with Freddy Garcia.

The Mets have added a mediocre arm to the bullpen and a mediocre back-up catcher. The Mets are hoping three key players – Beltran, Jose Reyes and Jason Bay – are healthy and two starters will fall out of the sky.

All along, we’ve been looking forward to 2012, and this week just underscores that sentiment. Alderson did say the Mets would be competitive this season, but that’s vague. Everything has to break right for the Mets to be competitive and how often do things always break right?