Jun 01

History Revised With Carlos Beltran Returning

Covering baseball for over two decades taught me several things, some simple and others more complex. Several of these valuable lessons will come into play tonight with Carlos Beltran’s return to New York to face the Mets as a member of the Cardinals.

Baseball has its ironies and Beltran comes back playing for the team that bounced the Mets from the 2006 NLCS. He also finds himself playing behind the pitcher, Adam Wainwright, who threw the knee buckling curveball that froze Beltran and forever placed him into the darkest recesses of Mets lore.

BELTRAN: Had some magic moments with that swing.

As far as irony goes, this is pretty delicious stuff, but not so savory are the remembrances of Beltran by Mets’ fans of his tenure here and comments made, and written, by several members of the New York media, beginning with WFAN’s Craig Carton, nothing more than a shock jock who vainly tries to entertain with vulgarity and cheap, crass humor.

This morning he crudely made fun of a mole on the side of Beltran’s face.

Making fun of a person’s looks or physical abnormality in the attempt of humor is simply low. It also does nothing to add to the supposed theory of New York fans and media being sophisticated. How sophisticated is it to joke about a person’s physical appearance or blemish? Are we still in the fifth grade, Carton? And, what is it Boomer Esiason always ends his show with? Stay classy New York.

Nothing classy about Carton this morning.

I don’t think much about Beltran’s reception tonight. He’ll get his fair share of cheers. Boos, too. There will also be indifference, which, to an athlete is more venomous than hate.

When it comes to Beltran’s career with the Mets, there’s nothing about it that warrants hate. Beltran was signed after a historic playoff run with the Houston Astros. The Mets, then on the verge of developing into a contender, were at an interesting phase in their history and Beltran was signed as a cornerstone.

The Mets wrestled Beltran from the Yankees that winter, but there would always be the wonder if he really wanted Queens because his agent, Scott Boras, made a last minute pitch to the Yankees.

Beltran struggled his first season with the Mets – a lot of players do in making the transition to the city – but what highlighted that summer was him playing with a broken face after a horrific outfield collision with Mike Cameron.

Say what you will about Beltran’s quiet, and low key demeanor and persona, but he played hurt and when healthy produced and posted significant numbers. He might have been one of the Mets’ best position players they have ever had if he was healthy his entire tenure here.

Beltran had an incredible 2006 season, which unfortunately for him has been reduced to one at-bat. More of those sophisticated fans at work, right?

The Mets haven’t been close to the World Series since, but that hasn’t been Beltran’s fault as much as it was their inability to bolster their rotation and bullpen, to overcome a long string of serious injuries and poor signings and acquisitions.

To say Beltran’s at-bat against Wainwright slammed shut the Mets’ playoff aspirations is an oversimplification because there is that matter of blowing a seven-game lead with 17 remaining in 2007 plus another late-season collapse in 2008. Totally unfair to pin that all on Beltran.

Beltran was a very good player on a flawed team and should be remembered for his ability to perform while frequently injured. Outside of the episode when Beltran had surgery on his own – and can you blame him considering the Mets’ shoddy history of handling of injuries? – he was pretty much a team player.

Much has been attempted to be made of about a divide in the Mets’ clubhouse between the Hispanic and American players with Beltran being made a cause. In reality, the central figure in that friction was more Carlos Delgado, brought on by his differences with then manager Willie Randolph.

Delgado had some clubhouse lawyer in him, while Beltran’s personality precluded him from being a vocal presence. And, Delgado had a deeper influence on Jose Reyes than Beltran, so keep than in mind, too, when laying the groundwork for Reyes’ departure.

Beltran was a very good player who didn’t live up to the expectations created  by that monster postseason when he was with Houston. He was never going to live up to those lofty expectations or that salary.

The important thing to remember, however, is he tried. And for that, he deserves your respect and cheers tonight.

 

 

 

 

Apr 13

Do The Mets Have A Rivalry With Any Team?

With the Mets in Philadelphia over the weekend, I can’t help but wonder if they have a rivalry with any team. I mean a serious, hate-their-guts rivalry. They definitely don’t have anything with the spice of Yankees-Red Sox.

For two seasons, at least, they had something with the Phillies, and in 2007 and 2008 they kicked away the NL East on the final weekend. Jimmy Rollins was right when he said the Phillies were the team to beat.

But, for 50 years, Mets-Phillies was mostly ho-hum, despite the closeness of the two cities. Geography is only a small factor for it, but it can’t be the sole essence of an intense rivalry. That’s why Mets-Yankees, to me, doesn’t make it, either. So what that they play in the same city. The bottom line is the two teams aren’t competing for the same thing. That, in large part is why interleague play doesn’t cut it.

The Mets and Phillies are competing for the same prize, but the teams are rarely good at the same time. Rollins and Carlos Beltran traded jabs a couple of times and Cole Hamels suggested the Mets choked (actually, the words were put in his mouth by WFAN talk-show hosts), which was simply a statement of fact.

Early in their history, for obvious reasons, there was a rivalry with the Dodgers and Giants. In 1969, it was the Cubs. Then at various times the rivals became the Pirates, the Cardinals, and then the Braves.

Of all of them, the Braves might have been the most intense over the longest period.

When you look at the great rivalries in sports, the competition for the same goal is usually the basis. Then other factors, such as geography and certain players spice the rivalry.

From the Philadelphia perspective, much of their scorn for the Mets was personified in Jose Reyes, but he’s gone. There’s no real Met for Phillies fans to hate. Where’s Billy Wagner when you need him.

There’s really no team the Mets face that gets the blood boiling. The Yankees, because of interleague play, is more made-for-TV posturing. I covered it from both clubhouses and the responses where mostly clipped and cliche.

The only time I felt a genuine contempt by the clubs for each other was after 9-11, when several Yankees said they thought the Mets were getting more publicity for doing more than they were. Hard to understand that thinking considering the then major was at Yankee Stadium as much as City Hall.

Both teams were sincere about the community, but circumstances dictated more cameras were on the Mets at key times. The Shea Stadium parking lot was a staging area and Mets players loaded trucks while in uniform. Both teams visited local police and fire units. But, it was the Mets who had the first game back in New York.

And, the Mets threw quite a party that night.

That was the only time I thought seriously about the Mets and Yankees playing each other. The first game back? Oh, that would have been a special night.

But, when you’ve disappointed since 2006, and had limited spurts of greatness and then mediocrity for the better part of 50 years, it makes it hard to find a real rival.

I would say the Mets’ most intense rivalry for five decades has been with themselves.

 

 

Apr 10

Mets Farm System Producing

A common thread among all contenders is a strong home-grown core. Teams augment themselves with trades and free-agent signings, but the foundation comes from within.

With the exception of left fielder Jason Bay, last night’s line-up was a production of the farm system. Josh Thole, Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy, Ruben Tejada, David Wright, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Lucas Duda and Mike Pelfrey all came from below.

Ideally, a team wants to add one player a year from its minor league system, much the way the Yankees did during their run during the 1990s and early 2000s. When you re-visit how the championship teams of 1969 and 1986 were built, the foundation came from the minor leagues.

A team building from within gains the added benefit of economic stability and cost certainty. In today’s economic structure, and considering the Mets’ financial stresses, building this way should enable them to be aggressive in the free-agent market in the next few seasons.

The Mets are under $100 million for 2012 for their payroll, and hope to have more relief when the contracts for Bay and Johan Santana expire over the next two years. Ideally, they’d like to trade both, but that’s highly unlikely consider their injury history and performance. Freed from a long-term obligation to Jose Reyes, the Mets’ next major contractual decision is whether to extend David Wright.

Things definitely appear brighter today then they did at the start of spring training when the organization had the Ponzi scandal looming over their head. Despite being on the hook for a potential $162 million – far better than the $1 billion it could have been – the Mets have reason to believe the worst is behind them.

Because the agreement stipulates the Mets don’t have to pay any of their settlement for three years, if they continue to play well they should benefit from an increased attendance.

 

 

 

 

 

Apr 09

Evaluating Mets’ Sweep Of Braves; Niese Puts Cap On Weekend

NIESE: Flirts with no-hitter.

The Mets and Yankees were at opposite ends of the broom over the weekend, but it didn’t take much to guess where most of the newspaper attention went. Right – in Florida where the Rays were disposing of the Yankees.

Being a Mets fan, you’re used to that, but today you want it this way. Let the Mets fly in under the radar; let the Yankees deal with the pressure and panic.

The weekend was all about pitching, with Jon Niese flirting with the franchise’s first no-hitter. The string remains intact for 7,971 games. Who cares how long the streak goes as long as they keep playing well.

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Mar 02

Mets need to hit the streets hawking tickets.

Over the last few days I was on the ESPN.com website and noticed ads for Yankees tickets. Even on the Mets site. I don’t see the Mets on the ESPN site advertising for tickets.

Actually, I don’t t see any ads by the Mets for tickets anywhere.

The Yankees will outdraw the Mets this year even without the ads, but they are still in there pitching for business while the team from Flushing does nothing.

Now is the time, when there’s the spring interest in baseball to promote, but I’m not seeing much of that – just more from the Yankees. The Mets need to be all over the newspapers, the Internet, radio and TV hawking their tickets.

You will undoubtedly see commercials for Mets tickets on SNY, but want to guess how much they’ll pay for them?

I know a lot of fans complain about ticket prices even though the Mets have dropped their rates. There is such a thing as supply and demand, and when the supply is high and demand is low, something must be done to get the buyer to act. That something is lower the prices again until the customer will act.

It is quite simple really, that in absence of a winning product on the field, the Mets must do something to generate interest in purchasing tickets.

I know what they are thinking: “If we lower the ticket price from $50 to $40 we are losing $10.’’ That’s not true, because if nobody is buying the ticket at $50 they are losing a chance at $50.

It is better to lower the price than to have the seat go empty. Of course, it is still better to put a competitive team on the field.