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.

 

Apr 05

Mets Summer Of 1973: The Birth Of “Ya Gotta Believe.”

gal-70smets-13-jpg

TUG McGRAW: Coined one of the best slogans ever.

As far as team slogans go, the 1973 Mets’ rallying cry “Ya Gotta Believe’’ may not rank with Knute Rockne’s “Win one for the Gipper,’’ but it stood the test of time, lasting far longer than Reingold beer’s “Ten Minute Head.’’

Had it been a movie, the late and great Roger Ebert would have given it a thumbs down for it’s corniness.

Going into the season, the 1973 team was arguably more talented than the 1969 Miracle Mets, with the additions of Rusty Staub, Jon Matlack, John Milner and Felix Millan. This was a team to be feared and sprinted out of the gate at 4-0, and was in first place by late April. However, overcome by injuries, the Mets nose-dived into the cellar, 7 ½ games behind by July 26. They dropped to 12 games below .500 with 44 games to play on August 16.

Even so, they were still within shouting distance in the mediocre National League East. It would be tough, Mets Chairman of the Board M. Donald Grant thought, but there were all those tickets to home games in September that needed to be sold.

MCGRAW: You win with heart, too.

MCGRAW: You win with heart, too.

Grant addressed the team and told them not to quit because there was time to turn things around. After all, he had had recent history to fall back on as the 1969 team overcame an eight-game August deficit to the Cubs.

That’s when closer Tug McGraw stood up and shouted, “that’s right, we can do it, Ya gotta believe.’’ It was a moment of “was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor,’’ exuberance that stuck with those Mets.

The Mets, Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs tripped over each other for much of September, but Yogi Berra’s team was the most consistent, and had to be considering the ground it had to make up.

The Mets won 24 of 35 games to make up those 12 games and move into first place on Sept. 21, with a 10-2 rout of Pittsburgh behind Tom Seaver.

It was a fragile lead as only 2 ½ games separated them from fifth-place Chicago.

“We’ve been hot,’’ Berra said at the time. “But I have to say it’s still wide open.’’

The Mets swept a two-game series with St. Louis and split a two-game series with Montreal before heading into Wrigley Field that final weekend with a one-game lead. On Friday the Mets were rained out, but Montreal beat Pittsburgh. The scenario repeated itself on Saturday.

By now, St. Louis leapfrogged Pittsburgh and trailed by 1½ games going into Sunday. The Mets split a double-header to go to 81-79 while the Cardinals were 81-81.

That set up another double-header for Monday with the Mets needing a split to win the division title, which Seaver gave them by winning the first game.

This might have been the Mets’ grittiest team, and it’s soundtrack being McGraw screaming “Ya Gotta Believe,’’ as he slapped his glove on his thigh.

Although McGraw repeated the slogan with the 1980 Phillies, and Philadelphia fans tried to resurrect it several years ago, it didn’t have the same impact as it did when it woke up New York, the team and the city, during the Summer of 1973.

ON DECK: Jeremy Hefner and lineups.