Nov 26

Who Is The Mets’ True Rival

It was rivalry weekend in college football, and while watching Ohio State-Michigan, I couldn’t help but wonder about the Mets’ greatest rivalry. From Day One, there hasn’t been one team that cause Mets’ fans blood to boil over the decades.

A rival is one where the teams compete for the common prize year after year. Often there is bad blood and geography often plays a role. Sometimes there’s a historical event that triggers the rivalry.

The Yankees and Red Sox are a prime example, with the tensions ignited by Boston selling Babe Ruth to New York. Although the Yankees dominated for decades, there was the element of Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio. In fact, the two superstars were briefly traded for each other in 1947 during a drinking binge between the two owners one night at Toots Shore’s saloon in Manhattan, but was called off the following morning when Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey called the Yankees’ Dan Topping and backed out.

Yawkey did say he’d go ahead with the if the Yankees threw in their rookie left fielder: Yogi Berra.

New York consistently beat out the Red Sox until the Yankees’ historic collapse in the 2004 ALCS. The rivalry still sizzles today, as does Dodgers-Giants and Cardinals-Cubs.

Nothing the Mets have comes close.

With the Mets’ roots planted from the Dodgers and Giants, I wonder wasn’t the interest primarily about fans of the two teams coming out to Shea Stadium to see their old favorites rather than a disdain for either?

Coming into the National League in 1962 with Houston, one would have thought Mets-Astros would materialize, but the teams were so bad until the Mets came out of nowhere in 1969 to win the World Series. That was the same year Major League Baseball realigned into two divisions.

The Astros were just another stop on the schedule until they played in a dramatic NLCS in 1986, won by the Mets. But the sparks from that series turned to be dying embers.

However, Mets’ rivalries varied by the decade.

In 1969 into the early 1970s it was the Cubs. It was the Cardinals in the 1980s. There was compelling baseball played against the Barry Bonds’ Pirates in the early 1990s, but later in the decade and into the 2000s until now the Braves and Phillies created the most tension.

However, the temperature against the Braves and Phillies mostly depended on who is hot at the time. With all three playing under .500, are you really hooked when they play? The same goes for Washington. It’s been ten years since the NL East went down to the final weekend.

What about the Yankees, you ask?

The Yankees’ “rivalry’’ is a manufactured product created by interleague play. They don’t compete in the same division, just in the same city and for the back pages on the tabloids.

Interleague has run its course. It only matters against the Yankees in the World Series.

Let me ask you: When the schedule comes out which games do you circle?

Oct 21

Kershaw For Dodgers in Game 6 Reminiscent Of Seaver In ’73 – Sort Of

One of the great things about the playoffs is its ability to remind you of great moments past, and Clayton Kershaw going for the Dodgers tomorrow brings to mind the Mets’ decision to start Tom Seaver in Game 6 of the 1973 World Series.

But, that was 43 years ago, and time has a way of blurring details.

SEAVER: Yogi's Waterloo in '73.

SEAVER: Yogi’s Waterloo in ’73.

While the headline of the Dodgers and Mets each going with their aces in Game 6 is the same, there are substantial differences in the situations. The subplots are different.

The first being a sense of urgency. There was none for Yogi Berra’s Mets. Berra started Seaver on short rest to start the game that would have given the Mets the championship. They were ahead 3-2 in the Series and Berra had George Stone, who was 12-3 during the season, for a Game 7. Berra wanted to finish off the Athletics and figured Seaver was his best chance.

However, the Dodgers trail 3-2 after losing twice at home and need the rested Kershaw to keep alive their season. If he does, the Dodgers will attempt to advance with Rich Hill, who, like Stone, is a 12-game winner.

While the situations differ other than each team playing its ace, a Game 6 gets the mind racing and it brought back the memory of Berra’s most difficult and controversial decision.

Visiting the past is one of baseball’s greatest gifts. Too bad it was a lump of coal for the Mets.

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May 06

Mets List: Hall Of Famers With Mets’ Ties

Tom Seaver is the Mets’ only home-grown Hall of Famer, but unfortunately didn’t play his entire career with the team. Neither will this year’s inductee, Mike Piazza.

There have been no Met with Hall of Fame ties whose entire career was spent in flushing.

With today being Willie Mays’ 85th birthday, and yesterday’s post on Warren Spahn prompted this list of Hall of Famers with Mets’ ties:

Seaver, 1967-77, 1983

Richie Ashburn, 1962

Yogi Berra, 1965 (player), 1972-75 (manager)

Gary Carter, 1985-89

Mays, 1972-73

Eddie Murray, 1992-1993

Nolan Ryan, 1966, 1968-71

Duke Snider, 1963

Spahn, 1965

Casey Stengel, 1962-65 as manager

 

Jan 06

Writers Do Right By Piazza

Finally. The Baseball Writers Association of America did right today by putting slugging catcher Mike Piazza into the Hall of Fame along with Ken Griffey. As far as I’m concerned my colleagues also got it right by keeping PED cheaters Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa out. I also think the writers whiffed with Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell and Mike Mussina.

Piazza, who fell 28 votes shy last year, received 365 votes for 83 percent of those cast to go in as history’s top home run hitting catcher and is arguably one of the top three of all time at the position along with Johnny Bench and Yogi Berra.

PIAZZA and SEAVER: The Mets' best. (AP)

PIAZZA and SEAVER: The Mets’ best. (AP)

“It’s the first time in a long time I’ve been speechless,” Piazza told the MLB Network. “Nothing can prepare you when you do get that call. It’s just something you can’t describe. …To be in an institution such as the Hall of Fame, is an amazing honor.”

Not surprisingly, Piazza mentioned his home run against Atlanta following 9-11 as a milestone memory.

“Obviously, a lot of people remember the home run in the first game after 9/11,” Piazza said. “When I think back now I start to get emotional. … From the first day in New York to the great teams we had in the late-90s, early 2000s was just very special.”

While the post 9-11 homer was clearly emotional, another memory came during the 2000 season when the Yankees’ Clemens beaned him, and then during the World Series – perhaps in a fit of Roid Rage – threw part of Piazza’s broken bat at him.

Piazza fell short in his previous three chances on the ballot because of the suspicion of PED use. But, other than a few busy-body writers talking about his back acne, Piazza never failed a drug test, did not appear on the Mitchell Report findings and never had another player accusing him on the record.

The same could not be said about Bonds, Clemens, McGwire and Sosa.

Because there was never any doubt he played cleanly, it was speculated Griffey would become the first unanimous selection, but inexplicably there were three writers who did not vote for Griffey. Presumably, their twisted line of thinking was there should not be a unanimous selection.

Normally I defend my colleagues, but not this time. While I don’t agree with those who vote for the PED users, there is no defending their logic. They got it right with Piazza, but these three voters hurt the BBWAA. Even so, Griffey went in with the highest percent of the vote to pass Seaver.

What remains for Piazza is the decision as to what cap he’ll go in with – the Hall says it should be where the player “made his biggest mark,” and that probably will be the Dodgers, and when the Mets will retire his number.

There should be not a matter of “if” Piazza’s No. 31 will be honored.

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.