Feb 06

Mets’ Legend Ralph Kiner Remembered

This one hurts. Not just the New York Mets and their fans, but all Major League Baseball, lost a legend today with the passing of Ralph Kiner in his California home with his family by his side.

Kiner lived his 91 years to his fullest as a Hall of Fame slugger followed by a 52-year broadcast career with the Mets. This is a man who hung around with Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, and dated Elizabeth Taylor.

Murphy, Nelson and Kiner: Gone, but never forgotten.

Murphy, Nelson and Kiner: Gone, but never forgotten.

On and off the field, Kiner was a star, one who inspired and drew awe, but of his traits and skills, perhaps his greatest was his humility and ability to connect with his adoring fans on a basic, human level.

“Losing Ralph is like losing a member of the family,’’ said Mets broadcaster Howie Rose, perhaps saying it best. “His warmth, humility and sense of humor will be missed. I’ll always treasure being able to share a broadcast booth with a Hall of Famer in every sense of the word.’’

Numbers are numbers, and Kiner’s were most impressive, beginning with leading the National League in homers in each of his first seven years in the majors. He averaged a homer every 14.1 at-bats and over 100 RBI a season.

However, those are numbers, which don’t accurately measure his impact.

Bud Selig called him “a player ahead of his time.’’

In a statement, the Pirates, for whom he starred, said: “Ralph was one of the greatest players to ever wear a Pirates uniform and was a tireless ambassador for the game of baseball. He was a treasured member of the Pittsburgh community during his seven years with the Pirates.’’

Tom Seaver called him “a jewel,’’ while Mets owner Fred Wilpon said: “Ralph Kiner was one of the most beloved people in Mets history – an original Met and extraordinary gentleman. … He was one of a kind.’’

Mets fans grew to know, and love Kiner, as a broadcaster. He, along with Bob Murphy and Lindsey Nelson, were their original broadcast team. Kiner carved out a niche for himself as host of “Kiner’s Korner,’’ the postgame show where players reveled in talking with Kiner and getting gift certificates and $100 checks.

Kiner became known for his stories and malaprops, once saying, “if Casey Stengel were alive today he’d be spinning in his grave.’’

Not just stories, but Kiner loved to talk hitting, often, in the days before specialized hitting coaches, talking with the younger Mets.

“One September afternoon in 1969, I asked him to come and feed balls through the pitching machine,’’ recalled Ron Swoboda. “We talked for about an hour. He gave me tips on holding the bat. That night I had the greatest night of my career.’’

That night, Sept. 15, Swoboda hit a pair of two-run homers off Steve Carlton in a 4-3 victory. That night, Carlton struck out 19 Mets.

I have had several opportunities to talk with Kiner while covering the Mets. Once in spring training, Kiner spoke to a group of reporters for about 15 minutes. I had a couple of extra questions and wanted to grab him for a few more moments.

Forty-five minutes later, Ralph and I were still talking in the Mets’ dugout in Port St. Lucie. He was a joy.

However, that wasn’t the first time Ralph was so generous with his time with me.

As a college intern working for the Houston Astros, I had the opportunity to do stats for the Mets broadcast crew of Ralph, Murphy and Nelson for a weekend series. I don’t remember if he said anything humorous that weekend. What I do remember was he was gracious, warm and friendly. I was a college intern and this man was in the Hall of Fame and dated Liz Taylor.

Still, he was genuine, and as Howie Rose said, treated everyone like they were family. I had a chance that weekend to learn first hand what thousands of New Yorkers already knew: Ralph Kiner was a gem.

 

Feb 02

Mets Vs. Jets: Which 1969 Championship Had The Most Impact?

Regardless of the outcome of today’s Super Bowl, it won’t be a defining upset in the way the New York Jets’ stunner over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.

Of course, that was the Joe Namath Super Bowl, the one in which unfortunately Johnny Unitas didn’t make an appearance until it was too late. Namath played a brilliant game that eventually carried him to the Hall of Fame. Without that victory, I don’t know if Namath makes it to Canton.

NAMATH: Led Jets to historic upset.

NAMATH: Led Jets to historic upset.

The Jets’ victory over the Colts is arguably one of sports’ greatest upsets. Several months later there was another, courtesy of another New York team, when the Mets stunned the Orioles in five games in the 1969 World Series.

As the Colts were overwhelming favorites, so too were the Orioles. Both, were stuffed.

So, which was the more surprising? Which was the most significant?

The Mets’ championship was harder to attain because they had to overcome a supposed superior opponent four times instead of once.

In one game, anything can happen, like the Colts throwing four interceptions and Earl Morrall not seeing a wide-open Jimmy Orr at the end of the first half. If one or two plays had been different, the Colts might have prevailed.

Given a football game can change on one or two plays, in retrospect the Jets’ victory is more easily comprehendible than it was in the hours after final gun in the Orange Bowl.

Sure, the odds were long, but throughout history – in all sports – teams have played the perfect game to orchestrate upsets in all sports.

However, in looking at the Mets, they won 100 games that season, so while their first trip to the playoffs was surprising, they were not a fluke team. By the time they overtook the Chicago Cubs, there was an inkling this was going to be a special team.

The 1969 Mets had one of history’s greatest pitching staffs, won their division going away and crushed Atlanta in the playoffs. Then, they dismissed the Orioles in five games, shutting down a crushing offense with Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman, and an array of clutch offensive performers – Donn Clendenon for one – and defensive gems – Tommie Agee and Ron Swoboda.

Clearly, the Jets’ victory was the most significant as it drove the merger between the established NFL and the AFL. The Jets’ victory might also have been the most stunning because they needed to catch lightning in a bottle to upset a superior opponent.

But, the Mets, while their title was an upset, in hindsight they were a lot better than history might remember them.

Jan 07

Mike Piazza Likely To Fall Short Of Hall Of Fame; My Case For Putting Him In

Speculation has one former New York Met getting into the Hall of Fame tomorrow with another falling short.

Tom Glavine, a 300-game winner who played the bulk of his career in Atlanta, should get in on the first ballot. Mike Piazza is likely to be denied for a second straight year.

PIAZZA: Hall worthy for sure.

PIAZZA: Hall worthy for sure.

On the web site, Baseball Think Factory, its poll has Greg Maddux (100 percent), Tom Glavine (97.7), Frank Thomas (91.7) and Craig Biggio (81.2) getting in, with Piazza (72.2) looking in from the outside. To be voted in, a player must be on 75 percent of the ballots. To date, the poll results are from 134 ballots published, which is less than 25 percent of the votes submitted last year.

While all the votes have been submitted, the above is only a small sampling and things could change between now and tomorrow afternoon when the announcements are made.

Piazza was named on 57.8 percent of the ballots last winter and it is doubtful he can make up that ground in one year. Remember, it took several cracks for Gary Carter to get in.

“It’s a process,’’ Piazza said this summer after his induction into the Mets Hall of Fame. “I’m very proud of my career. Obviously I put my body of work up against anybody, I’ve said before. But, you know what? I truly feel that the process is a beautiful thing as well. It is what it is. I mean, looking back, Yogi [Berra] had three ballots. And, Joe DiMaggio three ballots.’’

That’s something I don’t get. Three ballots for DiMaggio? Babe Ruth got in on his first year, but wasn’t named on 100 percent of the ballots. That’s absurdity at the highest level. The player receiving the highest percentage is Tom Seaver. That could be challenged when it is Mariano Rivera’s turn, but there are some writers, amazingly so, who won’t vote for a player the first time on the ballot.

I know one writer who didn’t vote for Cal Ripken when he first appeared on the ballot.

Piazza was retrospective that day in Citi Field.

“You think of things in the bigger picture,’’ he continued. “And so if I’m so blessed and honored to get to that point someday, I will enjoy it and be proud and wear the honor that is so important. Up until that point, I can only do like an artist – here’s my work, my canvas -and it’s out of my hands.’’

And, it is an impressive picture with him being a 12-time All-Star and the career leader in home runs (427) by a player whose primary position was catcher.

Piazza had a lifetime .308 average, .377 on-base percentage and six years with at least 30 homers and 100 RBI. He’s among ten players in history with a .300 average and at least 400 homers.

Based on numbers alone, Piazza is deserving. But, keeping him out is speculation he was a PED user, something he continually, and vehemently denies.

No writer can say for sure Piazza was a PED user as he: never failed a drug test administered by Major League Baseball; never been charged or linked to PED in the courts such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens; never appeared in the Mitchell Report or any study subsidized by MLB; and never has been accused on the record by another player, coach, trainer or manager of using.

His supposed connection to steroids is based on speculation and because a few writers saw some pimples on his back.

This is proof?

ON DECK: Looking at Tom Glavine.

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

Nov 20

Today In Mets History: Tom Seaver Win Rookie Of Year Award

In 1967, New York Mets’ icon Tom Seaver began his journey on becoming “The Franchise,’’ when he was named the National League’s Rookie of the Year, an award he said he cherished more than his All-Star appearance that summer.

SEAVER: Begins journey to greatness.

SEAVER: Begins journey to greatness.

“This is a bigger thrill to me than being named to the All-Star team,’’ Seaver said at the time. “You only get one chance to be Rookie of the Year. If you’re good you can make the All-Star team several times in your career.’’

Seaver made it a dozen times.

In winning the award, Seaver became the first Met to win a postseason honor and the first ever player from a last-place team.

The Mets lost 101 games in 1967, but the addition of Seaver was the key move in the franchise becoming a winner.

That season, Seaver set franchise at the time with 16 wins, 18 complete games, 170 strikeouts and a 2.76 ERA.

In the All-Star Game that year, won 2-1 by the National League in 15 innings, Seaver retired Tony Conigliaro on a fly ball, walked Carl Yastrzemski, got Bill Freehan on a fly ball and struck out Ken Berry.

Seaver won three Cy Young Awards and finished second two other times in a career that featured winning 311 games with a 2.86 ERA and an incomprehensible 231 complete games and 61 shutouts. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992 with a record 98.8 percent of the vote.

LATER THIS MORNING: How the free agent market is shaping up.

 

 

Sep 29

Mets To Enter Winter Honoring Mike Piazza

There will be a twinge of sadness in the air for the New York Mets this afternoon at Citi Field, as the final day of the season means dreams and hopes long forgotten.

It means the expectations of spring have died, that there is no more time, that precious little – if anything – can be salvaged, and soon the plush green of the outfield will be covered by bitter snow.

PIAZZA: Mets Hall of Famer.

PIAZZA: Mets Hall of Famer.

Once again, the goal of this game – to compete in October – will go unfulfilled for the Mets as they succumbed to injuries, thin talent and long stretches of mediocrity to limp through a fifth straight losing season.

Yes, there will be sadness today at Citi Field, but also moments of reflection and perhaps optimism.

Today also includes the honoring of Mike Piazza, who will be inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame, joining the likes of Hall of Famers Tom Seaver and Gary Carter. Someday, Piazza could graduate from the Mets’ Hall of Fame by the Jackie Robinson Rotunda to the Hall in Cooperstown.

It would be fitting for the greatest hitting catcher in baseball history, and one of the central figures when the franchise last saw October.

The Mets will celebrate Piazza’s career with the Mets, the team he said he would like to honor by having the interlocking “NY’’ on the cap in his Hall of Fame plaque, that is if enough voters can see their way through the PED accusations and accompanying stigma.

There will be speakers lauding of Piazza’s brilliant career against the backdrop of photos of him in action. When it is over there will be another long deserved standing ovation before attention is turned to the Mets, who will try to avoid sliding into the offseason with a four-game losing streak.

Despite another disappointing season, which saw the promise of Matt Harvey shut down with an elbow injury that could prevent him from pitching before 2015, the Mets are expected to announce the extension of manager Terry Collins’ contract.

Extensions are given with the promise of better days to come, and for the Mets, with the contract of Johan Santana off the books, that should mean money spent on talented players.

Those players might not have the career of a Piazza, but there’s always hope, which is the essence of baseball, even after another long season.

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