Apr 11

Today In Mets’ History: Grote Homer Beats Reds

Not known for his power, on this day in 1971 Mets catcher Jerry Grote’s homer in the bottom of the 11th was the difference in a 1-0 victory over Cincinnati at Shea Stadium.

Batting eighth, Grote homered off Wayne Granger to lead off the inning. Grote homered twice that season and 39 times during his 16-year career, which included 12 seasons with the Mets where he carved a reputation as a defensive specialist with a strong throwing arm.

GROTE: Mets' best defensive catcher. (AP)

GROTE: Mets’ best defensive catcher. (AP)

Grote was a National League All-Star in 1968 and 1974. In those days, the NL was strong behind the plate with the likes of Johnny Bench, Tim McCarver and Randy Hundley.

How good was Grote defensively? Bench once said: “If Grote and I were on the same team, I’d be playing third base.”

Tom Seaver started that day and pitched nine scoreless innings. He was relieved by Tub McGraw, who worked two innings for the victory.

Grote also played with Houston (1963-64), the Dodgers (1977-78, and 81), and Kansas City (1981).

Grote was inducted into the Mets’ Hall of Fame in 1992.

He is 73 and lives in San Antonio, Tx.

ON DECK: April 11, Mets’ Lineup Against Miami

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Mar 01

Today In Mets History: Seaver Begins Holdout

SEAVER: Began holdout on this date. (Topps)

SEAVER: Began holdout on this date. (Topps)

This date in 1976 was a sign of things to come, and they weren’t good as ace Tom Seaver began a spring training holdout. With it, Seaver’s golden stature with the Mets began to tarnish and the frayed relationship culminated with him being traded to the Cincinnati Reds in 1977.

“If Seaver wants to play somewhere other than New York, I’ll oblige him,’’ said then-Mets GM Joe McDonald. “I’ll trade him if he wishes to be traded. We don’t want anyone who doesn’t want to be with us.”

Seaver’s response was he wanted to play with the Mets, “but not at the expense of making far less money than I can make someplace else.’’

Seaver eventually signed a three-year contract that paid him $200,000 annually, but that didn’t prevent the Mets from making the trade the franchise still regrets.

Jan 03

Are Mets And Jets Kindred Spirits?

Watching the Jets kick away a playoff berth today, who didn’t make the statement: Same old Jets. Sure you did. I did, too.

JETS: Maybe next year.

JETS: Maybe next year.

At one point, when they shared Shea Stadium and the arms were Joe Namath and Tom Seaver, there as a distinguishable connection. There was that magical time when the Jets beat the Colts in Super Bowl III (47 years ago); the Mets beat the Orioles in the 1969 World Series; and for good measure, the Knicks won the NBA Championship. Since then the Jets haven’t returned to the Super Bowl and the Knicks have won one title and the Mets have won two titles.

OK, so not winning the Big One is a common denominator. So is a lack of leadership from up top, evidenced by poor spending or not spending at all.

However, watching the Jets today produced another common trait, that being to spit the bit.

In 2006 and 2007, the season came down to the final weekend, where by winning they were in. Both times they were outed by the Marlins. In 2006, we were treated by Tom Glavine‘s implosion, much like Ryan Fitzpatrick did today with three interceptions.

At least Fitzpatrick had a fourth quarter. Glavine didn’t make it out of the first, and things were complicated with semantics when the lefty said he wasn’t devastated. Mets fans never forgave him.

 

 

 

 

Sep 23

Berra’s Passing Rekindles Controversial Series Decision

While the passing of Yogi Berra gave us pause to remember a baseball treasure and American icon, it also forced one of the most controversial managerial decisions in World Series history to resurface when he skipped the well-rested George Stone in Game 6 of the Series against Oakland in favor of  Tom Seaver on short rest, and who, by the way, entered the playoffs with a sore right shoulder.

“I went with my best,” Berra said at the time, and to his credit, four decades later was quoted in Matt Silverman’s book, “Swinging ’73: Baseball’s Wildest Season,” as standing by his decision. Berra did not yield to hindsight, saying he had no regrets: “No. Seaver and [Jon Matlack]—they were the best we had.”

1973 World Series Program

1973 World Series Program

History hasn’t been kind to Berra in his decision, but that is largely because the nature of the game has changed. In 1973, there were no such things as pitch counts, innings limits and coddling pitchers. Plus, Berra’s Mets used a four-man rotation while Terry Collins‘ team this year – who went 3-6 on their home stand to keep this race alive – has gone with a six-man rotation and taken to skipping starts to give his young rotation extra rest.

Years later, the reaction from several of Berra’s players was mixed. The Mets were heading back to Oakland for Games 6 and 7, Oct. 20 and 21, ahead in the Series, 3-to-2. Berra’s thinking was to go for the throat and not play it safe. He had a fully-rested Stone, who went 12-3 that season and last started, Oct. 9, Game 4, of the NLCS against Cincinnati. Instead, he opted to go with Seaver and Matlack on three days rest each.

Seaver, Matlack and Jerry Koosman all threw more than 240 innings that year and the Mets’ rotation threw 46 complete games. Nobody on this year’s Mets will throw as many as 200 innings and the rotation only has one complete game, that coming from Bartolo Colon.

One school of thought was to go for the kill shot with Seaver, who went started seven games that year on short rest and worked at least seven innings in six of them. Seaver, who threw 290 innings that year, was their ace and arguably the best pitcher in baseball.

There were reports, which Mets shortstop Bud Harrelson did not refute, that Seaver lobbied Berra hard to pitch in Game 6. Berra acquiesced to Seaver, similarly how Collins and Mets GM Sandy Alderson caved to Matt Harvey at times this year.

Often overlooked, said Silverman, was Oakland’s Game 6 pitcher.

“People tend to forget that Oakland had Catfish Hunter going for them,” Silverman said.  “No matter who the Mets pitched, they would have had a hard time beating Hunter.”

Meanwhile, in the Oakland dugout, Athletics manager Dick Williams considered the news a break. In his book, “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” Williams wrote: “The Mets, having put our backs to the wall, could afford to blow off Game Six. Yogi Berra could pitch a decent starter named George Stone in Game Six.

“That would give their ace, Tom Seaver, an extra day’s rest so that if there was a Game Seven, he’d probably be damn near unhittable, considering he’d allowed just two runs in eight innings in Game Three. And if Seaver faltered, number-two pitcher Jon Matlack would be rested and in the bullpen to back him up. Either way, we figured, the Mets had us whipped.”

Of course, Williams didn’t share those thoughts at the time.

Also overlooked is the Mets losing Game 4 of the NLCS to the Reds, Oct. 9. Had they won that game, Seaver wouldn’t have had to start Game 5 of the NLCS, Oct. 10, and could have started the Game 1 of the World Series, Oct. 13, on normal rest instead of Matlack. Starting Seaver in Game 1 could have enabled him to make three starts instead of two, and would have prevented Matlack from making three starts.

That’s an illustration as to how the game has changed. Pitchers routinely made three starts in a seven-game playoff. No more. You won’t also see a closer, like Tug McGraw, pitch eight innings in the first two games of the Series, including six in Game 2.

However, if Berra didn’t lean on McGraw in Game 2, the Series might not have gone seven games.

“That’s what second guessing is all about,” was how Rusty Staub was quoted in Silverman’s book. “However Seaver got to be the pitcher, he did pitch and pitched a pretty good game . . . and we didn’t score enough. That’s just the way it is.”

“I think Yogi made the right decision at the time,” said third baseman Wayne Garrett. “I would have pitched Seaver on three days’ rest. Why do you want to save him until the last if you can win it before? Why do you want to give them a game? If George Stone had pitched, maybe he would have beaten them. Who knows?”

Meanwhile, first baseman Ed Kranepool offered an adamant dissenting opinion.

“We didn’t have to win the sixth game; Oakland did,” Kranepool said in the book. “We had to win the seventh game, if I do my math, you have to win four out of seven. The sixth game . . . we don’t have to win, we have to show up, we have to play. We might win, we might lose. But that’s [not] the end of the World Series, correct?

“The seventh game, you lose, we should go home for the winter. You could use your whole pitching staff for the seventh. Tom Seaver is not short-rested. That’s his regular day to pitch. He’s pitched a lot of innings. He’s struck out a lot of people. He’s the best pitcher in baseball. So on the last day of the year, I do not want my third pitcher pitching, as opposed to my number one pitcher.

“George Stone was bypassed. And you tell me why?. You come to your own conclusion. We should have won the World Series.”

But, they didn’t and the debate rolls on. Berra said that summer, “it ain’t over until it’s over,” and this is one debate that won’t ever end.

 

Jul 14

DeGrom Provides Mets All-Star Memory

Jacob deGrom didn’t pitch long, but long enough to show why teams would salivate for the chance to get him if the Mets were to put him on the market.

DEGROM: Gives us a memory. (AP)

DEGROM: Gives us a memory. (AP)

The 2014 NL Rookie of the Year struck out the side in the fifth inning, and needed only ten pitches to do it.

Overpowering is too tame a word. He was nasty. He was filthy. He was special. He was so good that Madison Bumgarner, who is pretty special himself, waited on him when he returned to the dugout with a drink of water.

“He’s a nice guy,’’ the typically understated deGrom said of Bumgarner during a between-innings interview.

DeGrom also said, “I remember being nervous running out there, but not much else.’’

Even so, he gave Mets’ fans a memory that will rank among the franchise’s best in All-Star history as he joined Dwight Gooden as the only Amazin’ to strike out the side (in 1984).

The others on that list are:

2013: Matt Harvey throwing two scoreless innings at Citi Field.

2012: R.A. Dickey tossing a scoreless inning.

2010: David Wright getting two hits and a stolen base.

2006: David Wright homering.

1979: Lee Mazzilli hitting a pinch-hit homer in the eighth to tie the game and drawing a bases-loaded walk in the ninth to drive in the game winner.

1968: Jerry Koosman striking out Carl Yastrzemski to end game.

1967: Tom Seaver earning the save in a 15-inning game.

1964: Ron Hunt became the first Met selected and collected a single in his first at-bat in the game played at Shea Stadium.