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.

 

Sep 11

Don’t Figure Cespedes Returning

Count me among the group wanting the Mets to bring back Yoenis Cespedes, although I’m not confident in their ability to do so. They have the money, but I don’t see them going $150-million over seven, which would be the starting point.

The Mets won’t bring back Daniel Murphy or Bartolo Colon – which could come back to bite them – and Michael Cuddyer will be gone after next season and Curtis Granderson will be out after two more years.

CESPEDES: Want him back. (AP)

CESPEDES: Want him back. (AP)

I see the Mets making an offer, but not going all out. As good as Cespedes has been, I see the Mets falling short. Somehow, I see this going the way of Jose Reyes.

Another thing I don’t see is Cespedes winning the NL Most Valuable Player Award. As somebody who has voted for these awards, the thought process of most voters is to look at the entire body of work, and for Cespedes, that will be only two months in the National League.

Cespedes’ season has been terrific, but the award is for what he did in that league – hence, NL MVP. Bryce Harper, despite his team falling, still had the best season of anybody in the National League. Even Cespedes’ yearlong composite numbers for both leagues aren’t as good as Harper’s in the National League.

The Mets could have two postseason awards, and it’s not something anybody could have envisioned. GM Sandy Alderson for Executive of the Year and Terry Collins for Manager of the Year.

At one time I briefly thought Noah Syndergaard had a chance for Rookie of the Year, but that faded, and Michael Conforto, in case you’re wondering, hasn’t been around enough.

Of course, isn’t the important thing the World Series trophy? That’s the prize and it is within sight.

Sep 08

Mets Must Capitalize On Cespedes Extension

No matter what happens tonight in Washington, the Mets received a huge break because Major League Baseball and the Players Association reached an agreement that would allow them to pursue outfielder Yoenis Cespedes throughout the offseason. Cespedes’ contract limited the Mets to a five-day window after the World Series to sign him.

According to the original provision, the Mets wouldn’t have been allowed to sign Cespedes until May 15, and by that time he would have been signed. Considering their record, there’s no way the Mets would have been able to reach a deal with Cespedes in those five years.

However, Cespedes in under contract now and the Mets have his undivided attention. With how he has produced, he is worth bringing him back, even if it costs a lot.

If Cespedes leaves, the Mets will have the familiar problem of needing a power bat in the outfield. Michael Cuddyer will be gone after 2016 and Curtis Granderson will be gone in two years. All their young pitchers are under their control for several years, so there will be available money.

Another thing worth noting, when a team reaches the playoffs after a long dry spell, it doesn’t experience the benefit until the next year (2016). With the schedule now out and the Mets in the midst of a crucial series with Washington, people are already looking forward to next year.

If the Mets let Cespedes slide through their fingers, there’s no telling how this would impact ticket sales.

Since joining the Mets, July 31, for minor league pitcher Michael Fulmer, Cespedes is hitting .311 with 13 homers and 31 RBI in 34 games. He’s been an impact player since joining the major leagues, so what he’s doing isn’t a fluke.

Alderson earned his money with the trade, but keeping him is the real coup.

Aug 28

Second Part Of Harvey Gamble Plays Out Friday

Well, the Mets gave Matt Harvey his rest, 12 days to be exact, and it will be interesting to see how he responds tonight against Boston. Harvey missing a start was a two-part gamble. First, there was skipping him in favor of Logan Verrett. The second part is seeing how he would do on extended rest.

HARVEY: Plenty of rest tonight. (AP)

HARVEY: Plenty of rest tonight. (AP)

Harvey has been vocal about his preference working in a conventional five-man rotation where he works on four days rest. He was especially agitated when he lost to the Dodgers in Los Angeles, July 4, while working on eight days rest. On July 20, on nine days rest, he lost in Washington.

Harvey is 1-1 on seven days rest; 6-3 on six days rest; and 3-1 on five days rest. That’s seven losses for Harvey when not working on conventional rest.

When pitchers get too much rest they have a tendency to be overly strong and often overthrow and have a lack of command. You hear it all the time with sinkerball pitchers that they leave the ball up when too strong and need to be a little tired.

As bad as the Red Sox are, they can still hit and the Mets don’t need is for Harvey to be walking hitters in front of guys like David Ortiz.

Harvey has thrown 154 innings this season and including tonight is on schedule to make eight more starts on conventional rest. Assuming he goes seven innings in those games, that’s 56 more or 210 for the season. Using those numbers and how many innings they wanted for him, that leaves zero for the playoffs.

That obviously won’t work.

The Mets’ options are to skip him one or two more times; or severely limit his innings in September. But, with the Mets’ porous bullpen and need to win games – including six more with the Nationals – that’s not a good choice, either.

As the Mets calculate his potential innings for the playoffs, they must figure them through the World Series. They certainly aren’t going to calculate his playoff starts for just the first round. In doing that, the Mets must figure at least six more starts, which is two starts for every playoff round. Of course, they could figure sweeping each round, but this run already has a large dose of fantasy.

The Mets have done a decent job giving Harvey his rest, but not so much limiting his innings. Have I mentioned this before? It goes to not having a concrete program.

May 22

Here’s Your Chance To Meet Dwight Gooden

Every time Matt Harvey goes to the mound for the Mets, he does so with Dwight Gooden and Tom Seaver-sized expectations. However, he has a long way to go to match the buzz Doc Gooden brought to the Mets, and New York City, during the 1980s.

GOODEN: Meet Doc next week.

GOODEN: Meet Doc next week.

With an electric, sizzling fastball and biting breaking ball, posting a “K’’ after each Gooden strikeout became a ritual at Shea Stadium. It was a must-see event at Shea Stadium whenever Gooden started, and a Mets’ victory became expected and he usually delivered.

We knew Gooden was different when he struck out 276 hitters in just 218 innings while posting a 17-9 record with a 2.60 ERA in his 1984 rookie season. However, the following year different morphed into special when he posted the unreal numbers of 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA and 16 complete games spanning 276.2 innings. He struck out 268 that year and walked only 69.

In 1986, he was 17-6, but made the National League All-Star team for the third straight season (he made it four times), but helped deliver a World Series title to the Mets.

Those were exciting times in New York, and you can relive them with Gooden next Thursday, May 28, from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m., at Resorts World Casino. General admission is $40 for the event, which includes a Q & A session. A VIP ticket for $100 will entitle you to a meet-and-greet with Gooden where you can obtain autographs.

Regardless of your ticket purchase, you will have a chance to win Mets memorabilia.

New York Mets Report will be feature Gooden next week in an exclusive interview.

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