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The Curious Incident of the GM in the Night-Time

December 6, 2011

Listening to the news in between Beethoven and Brahms on WQXR on the morning of June 16, 2008, my father turned to me and asked, “Did the Mets fire Willie Randolph?”

“No,” I replied. “Why?”

“I could’ve sworn I just heard that they fired Randolph and some coaches,” my dad said.

I checked the team’s website. He hadn’t heard wrong. As disgraceful and nonsensical as it was, Omar Minaya had flown out to Anaheim and, at three in the morning following a 9-6 win, fired Willie Randolph, Rick Peterson and Tom Nieto – only one day after insisting that the manager’s job was safe, albeit in a dubious, cryptic fashion.

I went through the day feeling sick to my stomach that the franchise I worshipped through thick, thin and 2007 could pull such a pathetic punch and expect to get away with it. Though it’d been Willie who’d been fired, I also felt a gash in my back where Minaya had stabbed the ax. I tried watching the game that night, the Mets’ first under Jerry Manuel, but I left the room after the first inning. Omar Minaya and Tony Bernazard may not have realized how spineless and shameful their actions were, but I sure felt disgusted for them.

I understood why Willie was fired. When things go as wrong as they did, sometimes a change is all you need – and it almost was. But what hurt was waking up that morning to find out how sorely I’d been lied to, even though I knew that “the front office” was an entity who could care less what fans thought.

David Wright and Jeffrey Loria

Wright presumably telling Loria, "You see that guy over there? Keep your grubby little paws off of him!" All rights reserved by Michael G. Baron.

So now, after a day of letting Jose Reyes’ departure simmer and settle in my gut for 24 hours, I find myself feeling awfully similar to that day when the Mets fired Willie. As a baseball decision, it made more sense to not offer Reyes six years, just as it makes sense to not offer Albert Pujols ten – but what does Jeffrey Loria know about sense? It’s very clear now that Ol’ Crazy Eyes has his heart set on buying a team Steinbrenner-style rather than destroying a team Loria-style. Remember, folks, that this is the guy who fired Joe Girardi after only one season – a season in which he won NL Manager of the Year. He has always demonstrated the temperament and decision-making skills of a spoiled five-year old, and now he’s finally been granted an allowance.

As I mentioned yesterday, what hurt most about Reyes fleeing Flushing for Florida on Sunday night was knowing that the Mets barely even tried to sign him. After insisting all season that keeping Reyes would be far and away the team’s top priority, Sandy Alderson admitted that the team hadn’t even offered the shortstop a contract. This after not trading Reyes midseason because they intended to resign him in the offseason, the Mets weren’t even able to reel in a few top prospects in return. Now, with Loria’s pot of gold seemingly poised to dispense ten years and a Pujillion dollars for King Albert, the Mets might find themselves with a whopping fourth-round pick in return for the most dynamic player in baseball.

José_Reyes_2006

The younger, clean-cut Jose Reyes would have never left New York.

What brings more sorrow than anger is knowing that our little boy has grown up and left home knowing that his family didn’t even try to make him stay. Had I known that Terry Collins would end Jose’s Mets career by pinch-running for him after he led off the final game of the season with a bunt single, I’d have gathered the superhuman strength to leap from my second deck seat and tackle Justin Turner on his way to first base. Never mind that the force of my attack would’ve no doubt broken Turner’s spine; Reyes deserved to be saluted by his fans by being pulled off the field from the shortstop position in which he endeared himself to all of us. Especially if we’d known that this was the final moment we’d see Jose Reyes in a Mets uniform, the applause would’ve thundered louder than Jeffrey Loria’s stomach after eating one too many steaks.

But, as it stands, Jose jogged to the dugout as fans booed the move, and Ruben Tejada fittingly didn’t even give us time for a curtain call. And just like that, Reyes was gone.

And so began the Tejada era.

Jose, Jose, Jose, Jose…

December 5, 2011

My grandpa called me today to remind me of the fabled contract negotiation between Babe Ruth and the owner of the Yankees, in which the owner said, “you’re asking for more money than the president makes,” and Ruth responded, “I had a better year than he did.”

I took the above video parked in my self-upgraded Caesar’s Club seat at Citi Field on September 28, 2011. Please forgive my singing as I excitedly anticipated history – though Mets fans ended up with more history than we’d bargained for. I’d sworn off 2011 Mets games the week before following  an awful performance against Washington, but had come to Citi Field on a whim, no doubt for the same reason as everyone else that day. It wasn’t about watching the geriatric Miguel Batista throw an improbable 123.-pitch complete game shutout. Fans flocked to Flushing to watch Jose Reyes. I wanted to document each at-bat of what I and thousands more knew would be an historic day for both Reyes and the Mets. What we didn’t know was that this would be our only chance to see Jose as he secured the first batting title in Mets history with a drag bunt, the final hit of his 2011 season and his Mets career, before he was removed for a pinch-runner. Just like that, he was gone far earlier than we fans wanted him to be – both from the game and, now, from a Mets uniform.

If only Terry Collins had left him in long enough for Jose to give us one more stolen base. After all, it was his speed that enticed us all as he emerged in 2003 a scrawny 19-year old making his major league debut for the Mets in Arlington. Maybe Jose could’ve stolen second base for us to put the icing on a deliciously bittersweet 2011 cake and torn his hamstring in the process, driving his value low enough that the Mets could’ve afforded him.

Then again, if Sandy Alderson was that reluctant to bring him back healthy, I imagine he might’ve paid an injured Reyes to sign elsewhere.

I’m not too mad at Jose Reyes. I don’t think many Mets fans are. He loves us guys. We know it would’ve been nice to see him stay a Met his whole career, or at least through one more contract. I understand, with his relatively fickle legs, Reyes’ decision to take the longest deal he could get. I believe (read: hope) that this was more about the length than the money. I wish the guy well – but not too well, at least for 18 games a year. Al Leiter said that when he returned to pitch against the Mets as (ironically) a Marlin in 2005, a fan told him, “Al, I love you, but I’m going to boo you.” Hopefully Mets fans have it in their hearts to cheer Jose just as they did Mike Piazza when he returned as an opposing player. After all, the last thing Jose ever heard during a Mets game was boos as Justin Turner came in to pinch-run for him.

Maybe this wouldn’t hurt so much if the Wilpons would just come out and say that they’re strapped for cash. But there is a fine line between smart and stingy, and sooner or later that point needs to be addressed. I agree with Alderson’s reluctance to offer Jose six years – I can’t remember who said it first, but it’s always better to let someone go too early than to hold onto them too long. There’s a decent chance that both the Mets and their fans will look kindly upon this move in the near future. But with Alderson never even having made a formal offer, this feels like a real slap in the face to Mets fans; he didn’t trade Reyes at the deadline and said repeatedly that keeping him was a top priority. Then, at least publicly and “formally,” he didn’t even try to.

Indeed, this is a tale of deceit more than one of disappointment. The Wilpons sounded like a broken record as they insisted that the money they lost/were losing in the Madoff fiasco would not affect the team’s payroll. Then Sandy Alderson used it as one of his many excuses for not even offering “top priority” Jose Reyes a contract. By definition, that’s called lying. The layman’s term involves male bovines and the fecal matter produced thereof.

The effects of losing Reyes will no doubt be felt deeper than losing his undeniable spark. Can Angel Pagan handle being the team’s catalyst? More importantly, will David Wright crack under the pressure of being the sole face of the franchise? Ever since the team began playing at Citi Field, it seems that Wright has tried too hard to have the role of hero dictate his performance, rather than letting his performance become the heroics. With his co-star Reyes now off to Mr. Loria’s Wonder Emporium, it’ll be a really tough time for Wright if he keeps pressing. That is, unless he also finds himself in a new uniform come 2012.

If Johan Santana, Ike Davis, Wright and Daniel Murphy are healthy and successful next season, it’ll be easy to root for what we have rather than dwelling on what we don’t. Here’s looking at you, Ruben Tejada. Between you, Murphy and Lucas Duda, Mets fans have a lot of promising youth to be excited about. Those front office guys can go… never mind.

Happy flights and must-wins: World Series Game 2

October 20, 2011

What baseball fans nationwide (yes, even in New York – I said “baseball fans,” not “Yankees fans”) saw last night in Game 1 of the World Series was a fun ballgame, complete with a homer, good pitching, Yadier Molina’s arm and a controversial call. More importantly, they saw a St. Louis Cardinals victory, and hence they will see what Ron Washington and his Texas boys are made of tonight in Game 2.

The Cards have made a killing over the past month and a half with their highly-publicized “happy flight” mantra. What it meant during the regular season is that no matter what happened, they should at least win the last game of a series before they traveled to their next city. What it’s meant so far in the postseason is that, well St. Louis is going to win the game before they travel. That would include tonight. Playing at home or on the road has seemingly made no difference; St. Louis’ last four happy flights have been preceded by a 1-0 clincher in Philadelphia, a rout of the Brewers in Milwaukee, a win at home and another mashing at Miller Park, this time to win the NLCS. I don’t know how they do it, but it’s been like clockwork for those Redbirds.

That just makes Game 2 even more of a must-win for the Rangers. Then again, if there’s anything we’ve learned from the 2004 ALCS, or perhaps in a more contemporary example, the last month of the regular season, it’s that every game should be a must-win for every team. Even the littlest of momentum swings can change an entire season – that’s what makes baseball so wonderful. Unless your team’s mascot is Mr. Met, all it takes sometimes is one victory (or loss) to spark a wildfire.

If the Rangers lose tonight, as I expect them to do with a travel day looming, it’ll pretty much spell their doom for this series. However, if the Cardinals lose and fly home unhappy, it’ll certainly be interesting to see what Texas can do with that momentum as they head into Arlington for three games. Tonight’s matchup features Colby “Sort of Mr. October” Lewis going for the Rangers against the Cards’ Jaime “Spring Training Doesn’t Matter” Garcia. Neither has shown the type of effectiveness or ineffectiveness to qualify any sort of prediction for a winner, so it looks like it’ll be up to the offenses to show us which team “must” win more so than the other.

The (What in the) World (is happening in St. Louis) Series

October 19, 2011

Hey, remember five years ago, when the St. Louis Cardinals limped into the postseason at 83-78 and proceeded to win the World Series?

(Mets fans, you don’t have to answer that question. It’s tough, I know. But at least you can watch to see if Endy does it again against those you-know-whats.)

Well, this year’s Cardinals, whose 90 regular season wins are once more the fewest of any postseason team, are back on baseball’s second-most hyped up stage (only because fans can’t vote for which teams make it). This year’s World Series matchup between the Rangers and the Cards features two teams who, on paper, had to have everything go right for them to make it this far. And, for the most part, they did.

Ron WashingtonThe Rangers got through both the regular season and the postseason mainly on the strength of their offense. C.J. Wilson did go 16-7 in the regular season with a 2.94 ERA and 206 strikeouts in 223.1 innings, but even with those numbers, it’s tough to really call him an “ace.” His postseason has been awful, allowing fewer than six runs in only one of his three postseason starts – and he only went 4.2 innings that game. He doesn’t have the kind of raw stuff that, say, Justin Verlander has, or even Doug Fister or Max Scherzer. But those guys are surely making a beeline for not-Detroit as the colder weather fast approaches, while Wilson is getting ready to rock and roll tonight in St. Louis.

To be fair, the Rangers have gotten some clutch performances from the rest of their pitchers, and their bullpen has been as good as ever this October. But the main cogs in that Texas machine are the rest of the starting nine, those of much firepower from every position not called left field (but everybody loves Endy. Besides, it’s been more David Murphy than anyone else, and he can hit just fine). They have a harder hitting catcher, second baseman, shortstop, third baseman, center fielder, right fielder and designated hitter than the Cardinals do. The only caveats are if Michael Young can rememebr how to hit, if Adrian Beltre can be healthy over at the hot corner and if Nelson Cruz continues to be the monster that he is and not the shrimp that he was until the ALCS.

Tony La RussaRegardless, George Bush’s boys should still have the upper hand over the Cards. Then again, the Phillies certainly had the upper hand in the NLDS, too. With a juggernaut rotation that formed when Cliff Lee jilted – guess who! – the Rangers for the City of Brotherly Love and Abrasive Fans, the Phils were supposed to have the upper hand over everyone, in fact. But the Cards took down Halladay, Lee and Oswalt, also killing the deadly Utley-Howard-Pence combo in the process. They won the series that, frankly, they shouldn’t have.

Then came the Brewers, they who steamrolled their way through the second half in a way that no one saw coming and were unstoppable at home. Surely, obvious Manager of the Year winner Ron Roenicke’s bunch should’ve stomped out their division rivals. Yet the Cards’ seemingly meager offense handed Shaun “We Really Should’ve Kept Brett Lawrie” Marcum and the Brew Crew their two worst home losses of the year and three “happy flights” later, the Cards are sending the second coming of Chris Carpenter to the mound in Game 1. Despite their record, the Cards even have home field advantage – because this time, it counted.

The Cardinals are unstoppable right now, and their fearless leader, Tony La Russa, may be the best there ever was. There is something to be said about the work done this postseason by La Russa and his right hand man, Dave Duncan, who is no doubt the best pitching coach in the game. La Russa got more innings out of his relievers than his starters and made 28 pitching changes over six NLCS games. And he won. I think that speaks for itself.

On paper, the Rangers ought to take this series in four or five games, but the game’s not played on paper. I, for one, expect the Cards to win in five, just as I was told they did when it was just too painful for me to watch in 2006.

Don’t cry for me, A.J.-tina

October 4, 2011

The Yankees’ season is on the line. They trail the Tigers 2-1 in the ALDS. So, naturally, they must look to… A.J. Burnett.

For Mets fans, that’s like bringing in Luis Castillo as a ninth-inning defensive replacement in a do-or-die game (do-or-die games are what good teams get to play sometimes).

A.J. Burnett, here looking relatively distressed as usual, is starting for Game 4 of the ALDS. The Yankees trail the Tigers 2-1 in the series.

The Bronx Bombers are holding out for a hero, and most fans would rather see Bonnie Tyler than A.J. on the mound. It’s not that the Yanks “must” turn to Burnett; rather, after a rain-suspended Game 1 pushed Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia each up one game, Joe Girardi couldn’t use the three-man rotation he’d envisioned. So he used C.C. Sabathia in Game 3 instead, and the Yanks’ ace couldn’t come through. So, left with a choice between a beleaguered has-been in Burnett and an almost-was in Phil Hughes, Girardi is sticking with his “veteran.”

The two share similarly underwhelming postseason numbers. Burnett is 1-2 with a 5.67 ERA in 33.1 innings, while Hughes is 2-3 with a 5.86 in 27.2. Both pitched well enough in September, with Hughes offering a little more quality and Burnett a little more quantity.

Regardless of how Joe “not Torre” Girardi made his decision, he’s sticking to it, and the Yanks will have to hope for the least bad. This is as big a chance as ever for A.J. going to get to finally take the spotlight and shine. He did have four good games in the 2009 postseason, but then again, 2009 was by far his least bad year as a Yankee, a mid-distanced cry away from his struggles of 2010 and 2011.

There is one thing that fans can be sure of: Girardi’s hook will be faster than Frazier’s if A.J. starts to struggle. Burnett’s leash was short all of August and September, so don’t be surprised to see Larry Rothschild on the phone after Mr. Softee walks the first batter of the game. Remember, this is not about Burnett banishing his demons. It’s win or go home for these guys.

Good luck, Yankees fans. On the bright side, if there’s one thing that can shut John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman up faster than Derek Jeter striking out to end a ninth-inning rally, it’s a few early runs off of Burnett. It’s sure to be an emotional roller coaster all game, but Bombers fans will have a Game 5 to look forward to if Burnett doesn’t, well, bomb.

Buck up, Bostonians

September 27, 2011

“I never seen you looking so bad my funky one
You tell me that your superfine mind has come undone.”
- Steely Dan, “Any Major Dude Will Tell You”

You may have heard that the Boston Red Sox led the American League wild card by nine games at the start of September, and are now tied with the Tampa Bay Rays. That much is true – and any major Red Sox fan will tell you.

Crawford Heilman Heyward

The 2011 Red Sox and Braves are steamrolling towards a 2007 Mets-like fate.

You may have also heard that the team that used to be from Boston, the Atlanta Braves, led the National League wild card by 10.5 games in late August, and now only lead by one. That much is also true, but there doesn’t seem to be nearly as much panic surrounding this collapse as the one up in Beantown. Maybe it’s because I’m not friends with too many (any?) Braves fans; maybe it’s just because Bostonians have such high expectations for their team every year that they don’t know what to do with themselves.

I will grant Red Sox fans that they rightfully expected a lot from this year’s team. Signing Carl Crawford and trading for Adrian Gonzalez while the Yankees merely resigned Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter. Oh, and I guess they got Rafael Soriano, too. Early season struggles prompted premature cries of “woe is me” from Boston fans; then the team started to play like it oughta and that bandwagon was barreling through New England once more. Then came September, in which the Sox have gone all of 6-19.

Well, pony up, Sox fans, because it’s time to start rooting for your team again.

Welcome to the life of a 2007 Mets fan, my Boston friends. There are still two games left in the season for you to right your ship and allow us to keep the title of the greatest collapse in baseball history; though I can guarantee you that no matter what happens, that ’07 Metspocalypse will forever hold the title for most devastating.

To refresh your memory, after a heartbreaking 2006 NLCS, the 2007 Mets were leading the division – not the Wild Card, the division – by 7.5 games with 17 to play. The Mets fell into a tie with Philadelphia going into the season’s last three games, and after losing game one to the Marlins to fall a game out of first, there was little reason to be optimistic.

But then I realized that there was no point being down in the dumps about it: after all, Mets fans were pretty down in the dumps about things through the first five outs of the tenth inning in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. Remember, Sox fans?

So I cheered. Two hours before game time, I sat in my room in Pittsburgh, wearing five Mets hats at once, blasting “Livin’ on a Prayer,” “The Final Countdown” and every other eighties pump-up tune you could think of (and, of course, watching the 1986 “Let’s Go Mets” music video). Then I listened as John Maine went to work, subconsciously rocking back and forth in my chair, not stopping until he gave up his first hit 7.2 innings and 14 strikeouts later. The Mets won 14-0 to get right back into a tie with the Phillies and my calves were killing me.

I did it again the next day, with even more reason to be excited. Then Tom Glavine did what he did, and I can never again listen to “Sweet Child o’ Mine.”

But I digress. That penultimate game was magical, and Bostonians, you’d better start hoping for some of that midseason magic that carried the Sox this far. Take it from us Mets fans – watching a defeated team is no fun. You’d better hope Terry Francona’s firing that team up, and you’d better get fired up too. The Red Sox are still a very good team, and if they can get through the end of the season with a playoff berth in tow, then who knows that that rejuvenation could provide for the postseason?

But if you spend the next two days like you’ve spent the last fortnight, brooding and crying, “the Sox don’t even deserve to make the playoffs anymore,” then what’ll you do? It’s a lot more fun to get excited, and if you’re a true fan, you will get excited. The Red Sox are 89-71. The Rays are 89-71. This ain’t the ’08 Super Bowl – there are two games left. Even if you lose one of ‘em, there’s still a chance.

Don’t be bandwagon buffoons. Do you love your team, or don’t you? There’s a reason you call yourself a fan, and it’s because you love your team even when they put you through the wringer. Don’t just tell me it’s time to start rooting for the Patriots. How ironic that name is – for a fan base that dubs itself “Red Sox Nation,” I don’t see too many patriots right now. It’s time to stop asking what your team can do for you, and start asking what you can do for your team. Rooting for a winner and abandoning them when they falter is weak-minded. Get excited. Sure, that means being all the more devastated if things don’t work out. But if they do, then you can be that much prouder that you stuck by your team till the end. You’re a real fan either way.

Buck up, Bostonians. Show me something.

The Cutoff Man: A sad direction for Major League Baseball

April 25, 2011

Published in The Tartan, 4/25/2011: https://thetartan.org/2011/4/25/sports/job

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Tammi Wilson Stadium for the Opening Day 2020 matchup between the Pittsburgh Pirates and your Milwaukee Brewers! Here now to throw the first pitch is Tammi Wilson herself, winner of MLB.com’s Twitter sweepstakes to rename the ballpark and start as pitcher for the team of her choice! Let’s hear a big round of applause for Tammi and her winning tweet: “I luv da #Brewers nd I wud luv to kiss Ryan Braun hes such a qtie! #MLBSWEEPS2020”

Perhaps things won’t be this drastic, and perhaps it’ll be closer to 2025 than 2020. But regardless, Major League Baseball has amped up its marketing throughout the past decade, especially in the past five or so years, and the results have not always been positive. Sure, there’s been a positive overall response; but loyal baseball fans loved the game long before MLB.com existed, and “giving the fans what they want” has quickly become “giving the fans what they didn’t know they wanted until it was advertised as a real option.”

It’s not just the folks in the MLB marketing department who are doing this. Recently, reporters and announcers have started to view things from the perspective of a fan, rather than a neutral party paid to portray the game in the most informative way possible.

For example, Saturday’s White Sox-Tigers game saw a tough play end Brad Penny’s no-hit bid. Chicago’s Brent Morel hit a sharp grounder down the line that Detroit third baseman Brandon Inge made a terrific effort getting to and fielding cleanly, but his long throw pulled first baseman Miguel Cabrera off the bag and Morel was safe. The Tigers’ radio announcers immediately opined that the ball was a hit — and it certainly was, given that a less-gifted third baseman wouldn’t have reached the ball to begin with.

However, rather than confirm what would end up being the right call, Thom Brennaman and Mark Grace — announcers for FOX’s broadcast of the game — spent time offering reasons for the play to be ruled an error in order to preserve the no-hitter.

“And they ruled it a hit,” Brennaman said, sounding incredulous, upon seeing the ruling.

“Much to the chagrin of Tiger fans,” Grace agreed. “They wanted to see some history!”

Well, of course they did, but that doesn’t mean it was the wrong call. That’s why the official scorer is one of my favorite people in the ballpark. He’s the most neutral guy there can be, going strictly by the book and not by favoritism of any kind, no matter how cool a no-hitter would be.

Maybe in 2020, Tammi wouldn’t get to choose the ballpark to rename and the team to start for — she’d just get to do it for the All-Star Game. That seems a bit more, um, realistic. In fact, All-Star balloting began on April 19 last year, so perhaps it hasn’t started yet this year because MLB.comhas a big surprise up its virtual sleeve that’ll blow fans’ minds. Something crazy and super-awesome that will not only wow current fans, but bring in those new fans in droves.

What new fans?

Sure, baseball garners new fans every day, but I doubt those fans notice baseball because they can vote 25 times for the All-Star teams or because there’s a chance to throw out a first pitch at a ballgame. Maybe if that one person who wins that sweepstakes wasn’t a fan already, he or she would take a closer look at the game, but would those who didn’t win care at all? Probably not.

The integration of blogging and commenting into MLB.com has done some good to promote fans’ involvement and opinions. But while 5 to 10 percent of these comments and blogs are well-informed and well-thought-out, the other 90 to 95 percent just provide an outlet for bandwagoners and other such “fans” to let their uninformed thoughts fly into the public eye like YouTube comments.

Bad for baseball? Yes. Fans are a very important part of the game, but almost all fans have a team that they root for, and more than promotions or the public acknowledgment of their opinions, the thing that keeps them coming back is good, winning baseball. Hopefully, for the good of the game, Major League Baseball will not expand replay further than its current use for home run calls.

That said, if it does, one of commissioner Bud Selig’s reasons had better not be, “We want to make sure we are providing the best baseball experience for the fans.”

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