Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Ken Griffey Jr. Once Rejected a Trade to the Mets For a Rejected Met

Imagine if a scene like this had happened at Shea Stadium with Griffey wearing a Mets uniform.  (Elaine Thompson/AP)

With today's news that Seattle legend Edgar Martinez failed to garner the votes necessary for Hall of Fame election, that leaves Ken Griffey Jr. as the only player with a Mariners cap on his plaque in Cooperstown.  But nearly two decades ago, a deal was in place that could have seen Griffey change the "S" on his cap to an interlocking "NY".  That is, if Griffey hadn't rejected the trade.

According to the Seattle Times, Mariners general manager Pat Gillick and his Mets counterpart Steve Phillips had discussed a trade in December 1999 that would have brought Griffey to New York to join fellow 2016 Hall of Fame inductee Mike Piazza in the middle of a formidable Mets lineup that had come within two wins of a National League pennant just two months earlier.  But Griffey was adamant about only playing in Seattle or Cincinnati, where he grew up and went to high school.  As a 10-and-5 player (ten years in the majors, the last five with his current team), it was Griffey's right to reject any trade he didn't approve of, which he did after the Mariners asked for his approval of a potential move to New York.

Who would the Mets have sent to Seattle for the future Hall of Famer?  Well, Roger Cedeño would have taken his .313 batting average and then-club record 66 stolen bases to the Pacific Northwest in the nixed deal.  So would Octavio Dotel, who ended up pitching for a major league record 13 teams in his 15 major league seasons.  A third player would also have been jettisoned to Seattle to go with the speedy Cedeño and the peripatetic Dotel.  That player would have been Armando Benitez.

Yes, that Armando Benitez.

Benitez had become the Mets' closer in 1999 after John Franco was lost for two months with an injury.  Although Benitez had a dominant regular season (22 saves, 1.85 ERA, 128 Ks in 78 IP), he was just ordinary in the postseason, blowing a save in the division series (a game the Mets eventually won in extra innings) and failing to hold a one-run lead in the tenth inning of Game Six of the NLCS (the Mets lost that heartbreaker to the Braves).

Booooo!!!   (Gregory Bull/AP)
Had Griffey just said yes to the Mets, Benitez would have been in Seattle in 2000.  That means he wouldn't have allowed a game-tying three-run homer to the Giants' J.T. Snow in the ninth inning of Game Two of the 2000 NLDS.  And he certainly wouldn't have blown a ninth inning lead to the Yankees in Game One of that year's World Series, which completely changed the course of that Fall Classic.  And let's not forget how Benitez allowed eight runs in two late-season appearances against the Braves in 2001, coughing up a three-run lead and four-run advantage in those ill-fated outings, all but ending the Mets' unlikely post-9/11 push to a potential division title.

Benitez remained a Met until 2003, which was more than enough for him to incur the wrath of long-time Mets fans as well as recent converts.  Dotel and Cedeño, who were two-thirds of the rejected trade for Griffey in 1999, were eventually traded that winter to the Houston Astros for Derek Bell and Mike Hampton, with Hampton eventually being named the Most Valuable Player of the 2000 National League Championship Series.  Fortunately for Hampton, Benitez didn't blow any of his leads in his two NLCS starts, although Benitez did allow two runs in the ninth inning of Hampton's first NLCS start, turning a comfortable 6-0 lead into a 6-2 final.

Could the Mets have won the 2000 World Series if Griffey had okayed the trade?  Would John Franco have gone back to being the Mets' closer and would he have held the leads that Benitez blew in so many crucial situations?  We'll never know.  But the thing we can say with certainty is that every person who booed Benitez would have cheered for Griffey.  And Mets history would have looked a whole lot different.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

If Studious Metsimus Had a 2018 Hall of Fame Vote...

On Wednesday, January 24, the National Baseball Hall of Fame will call several worthy inductees and tell them to book a flight to Cooperstown in the summer.  Those new members will join former Detroit Tigers teammates Jack Morris and Alan Trammell on the stage, as those former players were inducted via the Modern Baseball Era ballot last month.

Last year's class saw the inductions of Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez, as well as executives John Schuerholz and Bud Selig.  Going by this year's early indications, the Hall of Fame stage in 2018 may be just as crowded.

A total of 14 players have returned to the ballot this year, after earning at least 5% of the vote in previous elections, but not quite receiving the 75% needed for enshrinement.  Among them are three former Mets (Jeff Kent, Billy Wagner, Gary Sheffield).  In addition to those players, there are 19 first-timers on the ballot, including two former Mets pitchers (Jason Isringhausen, Johan Santana).  And of course, there's a former Met killer on the ballot named Larry; no nicknames or surnames needed for him.

According to Hall of Fame ballot tracker Ryan Thibodaux, a total of 424 ballots will by cast by those BBWAA members who are fortunate enough to have a vote.  For all you kids out there, that means 318 votes will be needed for players to receive that snazzy Hall of Fame jersey.  That also means a player will need the support of 22 voters to avoid falling off the ballot.

Had Studious Metsimus gotten a vote, the number of ballots cast would have jumped to 425.  But since the "W" in BBWAA stands for "writers" and not "wannabes" (as a blogger, I suppose I fall under the latter category), I won't be able to help some poor athlete worth tens of millions of dollars achieve legendary status.  Then again, perhaps it's best that I don't get a vote, especially since I'd enshrine Jeff Kent just to get his CHiPs era mustache into the Hall.

And now, before you get a chance to search on eBay for a vintage Ponch and Jon poster, it's time to reveal the ten former players who would have been on Ballot No. 425 had such a vote existed, focusing on the three players I loved to watch play the most, followed by the remaining seven in condensed form.

Baseball Mecca.  (Photo courtesy of the Cooperstown/Otsego County website)

Edgar Martinez

Face it, the only reason he's not in the Hall already is because he played a significant portion of his career as a designated hitter.  How else can you explain a lifetime .312 hitter with a .933 OPS and OPS+ just short of 150 not having a plaque in Cooperstown yet?

The voters of this generation who use the DH argument to foil the case of Martinez are like the previous generation's voters who couldn't bear to see relief pitchers making the Hall.  "If they can't pitch more than a few innings, I can't vote for them," those misinformed voters would say.  But relievers such as Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter (all Hall of Famers) paved the way for the one-inning closer to get recognition from the Hall.  Dennis Eckersley has a plaque in Cooperstown.  John Smoltz's three-and-a-half year period as a dominant closer also helped fuel his candidacy.  Trevor Hoffman (more on him later) is knocking on the Hall's door.  And who's going to keep Mariano Rivera out of Cooperstown once he's eligible in 2019?

The same people who are now accepting one-inning closers as potential Hall of Famers now need to focus their attention on players who left their gloves at home.  Frank Thomas, who started more than 100 games at first base in just three of his 19 seasons and played in over 1,300 games exclusively as a designated hitter, was a first ballot Hall of Famer.  Why is his lifetime .301/.419/.555 slash line considered worthy of enshrinement and Edgar's .312/.418/.515 isn't?  Is it because Thomas produced the sexy hits (521 HR) and Martinez didn't (309 HR)?  It's true Thomas had 11 seasons with 100+ RBI while Edgar had just six.  But did you know the great Mickey Mantle only had four such seasons?  No one used that argument against Mantle and no one should.  But had he played in the DH era, Mantle's knee injuries would have relegated him to "leave your glove behind" status and then people would be questioning what should have been obvious about him; that he is undoubtedly a Hall of Famer.

Martinez won two batting titles.  He was also a league leader in runs scored, RBI, OPS, OPS+ and finished first multiple times in doubles and on-base percentage.  For seven seasons (1995-2001), which coincided with all of the Mariners' postseason trips in franchise history, Martinez's averages per 162 games were mindboggling.  He produced a .329/.446/.574 slash line.  That's a 1.020 OPS in 1,020 games.  And if that's not good enough, how about his 162-game average of 47 doubles, 32 homers, 123 RBI and 111 runs scored during the seven-year stretch?

There's a reason why the annual outstanding designated hitter award is named after Edgar Martinez.  That's because he was the best at what he did.  And those who are the best deserve to be with the best in Cooperstown.

Even Jeff Kent's mustache can't compare to Edgar Martinez's classic lip fuzz. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Larry Walker

Similar to Edgar Martinez, Walker hasn't gotten as much support as he should because of one nagging element.  Martinez has failed to get votes because of the DH factor, while Walker has the Coors Field factor looming over him.

Prior to becoming a Colorado Rockie, Larry Walker was already a good hitter and complete player.  In his final three years in Montreal, Walker had a .294 batting average, .371 on-base percentage and .516 slugging percentage, averaging 33 doubles, 21 HR, 88 RBI and 21 SB.  He was also an All-Star, won a Silver Slugger Award and two Gold Gloves while in Montreal.  Although those numbers are not quite Hall of Fame worthy, they were still very good.  Then he signed with Colorado and became one of the best players in the major leagues.

In his first season with the Rockies (1995), Walker hit .306 with 36 HR and 101 RBI.  His .607 slugging percentage was second in the league and he helped lead the third-year Rockies to their first-ever playoff appearance.  Year two in Colorado was fraught with injuries, as Walker only played in 83 games but still managed 18 HR, 58 RBI and 18 SB in half a season's worth of games.  Fully healthy in 1997, Walker's career took off into the stratosphere.  Walker's 1997 numbers (.366 batting average, 46 doubles, 49 HR, 130 RBI, 143 runs scored, 33 SB, .452 OBP, .720 SLG, 1.172 OPS) almost looked like they came straight from a video game.  But Walker wasn't done after his phenomenal '97 campaign.  Over the next five seasons, Walker won three batting titles (1998, 1999, 2001), finished second another year (2002) and had a combined .350 batting average over those five seasons.  Basically, he was Tony Gwynn with power and Gwynn was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

In ten years as a Rockie, Walker posted a .334 batting average, .426 on-base percentage, .618 slugging percentage and 1.044 OPS.  Only 24 players in major league history finished with a higher career batting average than what Walker put up in that ten-year span.  Of those 24, the only three who finished with a higher on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS were Ted Williams, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, all first ballot Hall of Famers and all legends of the sport.

Larry Walker played 17 years in the major leagues.  However, because of injuries, he only had four seasons in which he played at least 140 games.  From 1994-2005, Walker missed an average of 44 games per season, failing to play more than 103 games in five of those 12 campaigns.  Despite his multiple trips to the disabled list, Walker finished his career with 2,160 hits, including 471 doubles and 383 HR.  He also stole 230 bases, scored 1,355 runs and drove in 1,311 more.  His combined averages (.313 BA, .400 OBP, .565 SLG) are among the highest career marks of anyone not already in the Hall of Fame, as is his 72.6 bWAR.  And he wasn't just a product of Coors Field.

Walker played in 674 games for the Expos prior to his time in Colorado and 144 games for the Cardinals after leaving the Rockies, which is approximately five full 162-game seasons.  In those 818 games in non-Rockies uniforms, Walker posted an .851 OPS and 129 OPS+, averaging 63 extra-base hits and 21 steals per 162 games.  And those numbers weren't fueled by the thin air in Denver.

All told, Walker was a five-time All-Star, won seven Gold Gloves and three Silver Slugger Awards.  He also finished in the top 20 in the MVP vote seven times, winning the 1997 MVP Award.  Not all of his awards and accolades came as a member of the Colorado Rockies, proving that Walker was an exceptional player before and after his time in Colorado.  Simply stated, Larry Walker has earned the right to become the first player with a Rockies hat on his Hall of Fame plaque.

Larry Walker sticks out his tongue to all those who won't vote for him.  (David Seelig/AllSport)

Vladimir Guerrero

He didn't reach 3,000 hits.  He didn't hit 500 homers.  He didn't collect 1,000 extra-base hits.  He didn't score 1,500 runs, nor did he drive in that amount.  And despite having a feared throwing arm, he somehow never won a Gold Glove.  (Too bad there's no Gold Arm Award.)  None of that matters.  Because Vladimir Guerrero is definitely a Hall of Famer.

Guerrero played only 14 full seasons in the major leagues.  (He played a total of 99 games between the 1996 and 1997 campaigns.)  But he was a feared player both at the plate and in the field.  Guerrero never batted lower than .290 in any of his full seasons and was a .300 hitter in 11 of the 12 years he qualified for the batting title, becoming one of just 30 players to have that many .300 campaigns.  Although he never won a batting title, Guerrero had four years with 200+ hits, leading the league in 2002.  Guerrero also had eight seasons with 30+ homers and an incredible ten years with 100+ RBI, making him one of only 18 players to have double digit seasons with triple digit RBIs.  In addition, Vlad was a nine-time All-Star and eight-time Silver Slugger recipient.

Opposing pitchers feared facing Guerrero, as evidenced by the five seasons in which he was the league leader in intentional walks.  Only Barry Bonds (12 times) and Wade Boggs (six times) led the league in intentional passes more often.  Guerrero was walked intentionally 250 times - the fifth highest total in major league history.

It wasn't just moundsmen who hated to face him; opposing base runners were afraid to run on Guerrero as well.  Guerrero had 126 outfield assists, leading the league in 2002 and 2004.  He could have thrown out many more runners, but they got the memo later in his career and stopped trying to run on his cannon.

And in case you thought it's just me singing his praises, in 2004 Guerrero won the A.L. Most Valuable Player Award.  Nice, right?  Well, that season was one of a dozen years in which the right fielder received MVP votes.  That's just about every year he played in the big leagues, meaning Guerrero was recognized as one of the best players in the game for nearly the entirety of his career.

2,590 hits.  477 doubles.  449 homers.  181 stolen bases.  1,328 runs scored.  1,496 runs batted in.  A .318 lifetime batting average.  A .553 career slugging percentage.  Never striking out 100 times in a season.  Two 30 homer/30 steal seasons.  Lots of accolades.  Lots of respect.

Without question, Vladimir Guerrero is a Hall of Famer (and he should have gotten in on the first ballot last year).

Vladimir Guerrero terrorized the Mets at Shea Stadium and other teams at their parks.  (Heinz Kluetmeier/Sports Illustrated)

In addition to Edgar Martinez, Vladimir Guerrero and Larry Walker, my other seven Hall of Fame selections would be:

  • Chipper Jones:  He didn't just destroy Mets' pitching; he hit every team's pitchers.  Jones is one of 21 players with 1,600+ RBI and 1,600+ runs scored.  Fifteen of the other 20 are already in the Hall.  The other five are not yet eligible or had steroid suspicions.  Jones is not part of that latter group and should become part of that first group.
  • Jim Thome:  Anyone who hits 612 HR and drives in 1,699 runs without any talk of steroid use has earned his pass to Cooperstown on the first ballot.  Nine seasons of 100+ walks and a .402 lifetime OBP also help his case, as do his nine 100-RBI seasons and eight campaigns with 100 or more runs scored.
  • Trevor Hoffman:  A reliever with 30 saves in a season is considered dependable.  If that dependable reliever collects 30 saves every season for two full decades, he would still fall short of Hoffman's career total of 601.  In over 1,000 innings pitched during an era that catered to hitters, Hoffman produced a 2.87 ERA and 1.058 WHIP.  That's not Hall of Very Good.  That's Hall of Fame.
  • Curt Schilling:  Like Hoffman, he posted an impressive WHIP during an era known for its offense.  From 1992 to 2004, Schilling was the owner of a 1.091 WHIP, while averaging 202 strikeouts and just 44 walks per season.  In fact, of all pitchers with at least 3,000 strikeouts, no one posted a better strikeout-to-walk ratio than Schilling's 4.38 K/BB (3,116 K, 711 BB).  And then there's this posteason thing; the one with him going 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA and 0.968 WHIP in 19 starts.  He's one of the all-time greats.
  • Mike Mussina:  Schilling is considered one of the best pitchers of his era.  Modern metrics says Mussina was a better player, as his 83.0 bWAR puts him ahead of Schilling's 79.9 bWAR.  Mussina finished in the top-six in Cy Young Award balloting nine times and won seven Gold Glove Awards.  And of all pitchers who made at least 500 starts, only Hall of Famers Christy Matthewson, Pete Alexander, Randy Johnson and soon-to-be Hall of Famer Roger Clemens posted a higher winning percentage than Mussina's .638 mark.
  • Billy Wagner:  It's a shame Wagner hasn't gotten more recognition, as he was far more dominant than Hoffman ever was.  Hoffman got the job done as effectively as any other closer who ever lived.  But Wagner would eat a hitter up and spit him out.  Injuries curtailed Wagner's career, but any pitcher who averaged nearly 12 strikeouts per nine innings, four whiffs per walk and finished his career with a WHIP under 1.00 (Wagner's WHIP was 0.998) deserves Hall of Fame consideration.  And I didn't even mention his 422 saves and 2.31 ERA.  Okay, maybe I just did.
  • Jeff Kent:  Kent was more than just a mustache.  He was one of the best hitting second basemen of all-time.  For a guy whose career didn't take off until his age-29 season, Kent finished just 16 extra-base hits shy of 1,000.  The pressures of playoff baseball didn't faze him, as Kent posted an identical .500 career slugging percentage in the regular season and postseason.  And let's not forget his eight seasons with 100+ RBI, the 1,518 runs he drove in for his career and the title of all-time leading home run hitter at the second base position.

Those are my ten Hall of Fame selections.  Some will get in.  Some won't.  And some will want to know Jeff Kent's grooming techniques.  (Or Edgar Martinez's, circa 1990.)  As always, some candidates didn't make my cut.  (Yes, I know Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens aren't among my ten guys.  They'll be there ... someday.)  But every player on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2018 had an outstanding career and all of them had qualities that at the very least put them in the Hall of Fame conversation.

Who will get in?  And who will have to be like Johnny Damon and buy a ticket for themselves?  That will be revealed on January 24.  Until then, we'll just follow the advice of Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby and just stare out the window, waiting for spring to arrive.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Studious Metsimus Presents The Happy/Crappy Recap For 2017

It's the end of another calendar year, Mets fans.  And with just six weeks or so remaining until pitchers and catchers report to Port St. Lucie, it's time to look back and reflect.  No, we're not reflecting on all the injuries that seemed to be Ray Ramirez's fault in the eyes of the fan base.  (Okay, maybe we'll reflect on one or twelve of them.)  We're here to share what was happy and what was crappy about the 2017 season.  And if you followed this season as closely as the Studious Metsimus staff did, you'll probably expect the "happy" part to be as long as a Jeff Wilpon interview and the "crappy" part to be of a similar length as a modernized version of "War and Peace".

You know what?  You may be right about that.

But despite everything that a 70-92 record might suggest, not everything was crappy for Mets fans in 2017.  We got to see the Nationals make another first round exit, which means all of Daniel Murphy's postseason celebrations continue to be with him wearing a Mets uniform.  We also saw the Yankees complete an eighth consecutive season without winning a pennant.  (Hey, we hadn't seen that occur in over two decades.)  And of course, future Hall of Famer Carlos Beltran went out as a champion, winning a World Series ring with the Mets' 1962 expansion mates a full 13 seasons after his epic postseason run with the Astros led to him becoming the greatest free agent signing in Mets history.

As Mets fans, we can take comfort that things other than the Mets can give us pleasure.  Sometimes it's all we have.  And with that, I think it's time to delve into this year's Happy/Crappy recap.  I promise it won't depress you as you read it.  After all, we wouldn't want you to end up wearing a leg boot because of a depression diagnosis.

So what was happy about the 2017 season?


Seriously, what can we look back on and remember as a good thing that happened this past season?

(More crickets, getting louder...)

Anything at all?  Bueller?  Bueller?

(Crickets quieting down, mainly because they're all shaking their heads...)

Okay, so it wasn't easy to find something to be happy about when looking back at the 2017 campaign.  I mean, the team needed a win on the next-to-last day of the season to avoid their first year with fewer than 70 wins since Art Howe's crew "battled" their way to a 66-95 record in 2003.

Everyone except Ray Ramirez got hurt at some point of the season.  I mean, Jay Bruce was traded to Cleveland with almost two months left in the season and still had the third-most plate appearances on the Mets.  Michael Conforto got hurt swinging the bat.  So did Wilmer Flores, who found a way to foul a ball off his face.  Both players appeared to be heading toward career years, as Conforto was on pace to hit 35-plus homers and Flores had already established career highs in home runs (18), batting average (.271), slugging percentage (.488) and OPS (.795) before the invisible magnet in his nose attracted a fastball off his bat.  Even Noah Syndergaard, who was expected to contend for the Cy Young Award, missed the majority of the season recovering from a lat injury.

Hey, but at least he got to woo Mrs. Met on Twitter as part of his all-out war on Mr. Met.

The injuries, as well as the selling off of the team's veteran players (and by veteran, I mean the guys who made the most money and were in the final season of their contracts), allowed the Mets to call up their top two minor league prospects, Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith.

Aha!  We've reached the bright side!

Rosario and Smith had flashes of brilliance, but neither took the baseball world by storm, as both posted OBPs south of .300 and OPSs under .700.  Still, Rosario just turned 22 last month and Smith won't be 23 until the anniversary of the Midnight Massacre.  And yet, some people are calling for Smith's days as a Met to be terminated before he's gotten a chance to prove himself.  Why?

The two neophytes combined to produce a .223/.266/.395 slash line, which isn't that for off from Noah Syndergaard's career slash line (.200/.273/.345).  That may not sound impressive, but consider the following.

Rosario gives the Mets speed they desperately need.  The swift Dominican finished second on the team behind Jose Reyes in triples and stolen bases.  If Reyes doesn't return in 2018, Rosario will be the only dependable source for steals and extra-base hits that don't come to a screeching halt at second base.  Plus, he'd be the best candidate to go first-to-third on a single.  Without Reyes and not including Rosario's totals in two months with the team, the Mets would have finished the 2017 campaign with 17 triples and 27 steals.  That's fewer than Lance Johnson had by himself in 1996 (21 triples, 50 SB).  Rosario should become the go-to guy to get the go-go signal from his coaches.

Meanwhile, Smith may have batted .198 with 49 strikeouts in 183 plate appearances, but he was an excellent hitter with runners in scoring position.  On a team that occasionally struggled offensively, Smith batted .283 with an .871 OPS when a teammate was 90 or 180 feet from crossing the plate.  That explains why he drove in 26 runs in those limited plate appearances.  In fact, he was more likely to drive in a run last season than the 110 Million Dollar Man, Yoenis Céspedes, as Smith averaged an RBI every 7.0 plate appearances, while Céspedes drove in a run every 7.6 PA (42 RBI; 321 PA).

All I am saying is give Smith a chance.

That was the good that came out of the 2017 season.  Now it's time for the bad and the ugly.  Can we have some orange and blue toilet paper, please?

Okay, we've gone over the injuries ad nauseum.  We've yet to discuss the pitching staff posting the highest team ERA since 1962, but doing that would just get us ad nauseous.  So let me tell you a story about something that happened with the one team expected to do worse than the Mets in 2018.  I'm talking about the Miami Marlins.

The Marlins have a new co-owner/CEO/gift basket giver.  To protect the not-so-innocent, let's call him Dirk Jitters.  Mr. Jitters was part of a group that purchased the team, then decided to enrage the dozens of Marlins fans in South Florida by trading the one player who made them come out to Marlins Park on a nightly basis; Giancarlo Stanton.  But faster than you can say "most overrated shortstop in the history of baseball", Mr. Jitters also found a way to trade slugger Marcell Ozuna and speedster Dee Gordon and is now supposedly looking to unload the contracts of Christian Yelich and J.T. Realmuto in this liquidation sale.

One can only imagine what he would have done with Jose Fernandez had he lived.

But Mr. Jitters did also something that was very unexpected.  He attended a town hall in which Marlins season ticket holders were invited to ask questions about the direction the team was taking.  Mr. Jitters calmly answered questions from the gathering of disgruntled fans, including Marlins Man, who left his seat behind home plate at a nationally televised road game to attend the meeting.

In doing so, Mr. Jitters was able to address the paying customers in person and made him more than just a guy in a suit with a closet full of gift baskets.  Which means he's already done more as a Marlins executive than the Wilpons have done with Mets fans.

Dirk Jitters has more balls than both Wilpons combined.

When was the last time you say Papa Smirk and Little Jeffy address the media or the team's fans?  They don't need to.  That's why they hired Sandy Alderson.  The Wilpons are the most hands-off owners in baseball except when someone wants to get their hands on their piggy banks.  To most fans, they're just urban legends as most of the team's supporters have never seen them in person.

The Studious Metsimus staff once attended a similar gathering of season ticket holders in 2013, which allowed fans to ask questions to members of the front office.  Alderson was there.  So were his merry men (John Ricco, Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi).  Who wasn't there, you might ask?

Fred, Jeff and Saul.

The Mets' owners once had no problems giving out money to the top free agents and to re-sign their own players.  They gave newly-retired world champion Carlos Beltran a seven-year, $119 million contract.  They traded for a guy currently on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time, Johan Santana, then proceeded to sign him to a six-year, $137.5 million extension.  Then a con man "made off" with their money and apparently their public appearances as well.

As long as New York keeps signing low-risk, high-reward players for pennies on the dollar and get low performance and high injury rates from these players, the fans will continue to revolt.  They'll continue to come to the ballpark (blame the food) and watch the games on SNY (blame Gary, Keith and Ron), but they'll always be figuratively throwing darts at photos of the Wilpons.  Maybe not so figuratively in some cases.

With little chance of the club acting like a large-market team and with the owners continuing to avoid breaking open their piggy banks for a proven commodity in his prime (Céspedes notwithstanding), the fans might have to endure a lot more of the crappy before the happy returns to Citi Field.

And that's it for 2017.  For most Mets fans, the year couldn't come to an end any quicker.  For the cast of crew of Studious Metsimus, we're not ready to give up on the year just yet.  At least not until we thank those who inspire, educate and amuse us.

Respected and long-running blogs such as A Gal For All Seasons, Faith and Fear in Flushing, Mets Merized Online, MetsMinors.Net, Amazin' Avenue, Metstradamus, Remembering Shea, The Daily Stache, Mets360, Rising Apple, Mets Plus, Good Fundies, MetSilverman, Converted Mets Fan and Mets Daddy, just to name a few (or 15, to be exact) always have interesting stories to share, day or night.  Check them out some time.  I'd say "tell 'em Ed sent you" but I'm not sure all of them know who I am.

From all of us here at the corporate office of Studious Metsimus, which is quite literally a desk with a computer, an iPhone and a cat who swipes at us whenever we need to use "his" bathroom, we'd like to thank you for your continued support of this site and wish you a safe and happy New Year.  And by "we", I mean Ed Leyro (the dude at the computer), Joey Beartran (the roving reporter/culinary expert with the iPhone) and Taryn "The Coop" Cooper (the chick getting swiped by the cat).

And remember, Mets fans.  It's not how you play the game.  It's how much money you saved by not signing the top free agents on the market and hoping to get similar production from lesser players coming off a subpar season, then hoping to get a game-winning single from them once a month.  (This paragraph was approved by Fred and Jeff Wilpon.)

Hey, Dirk Jitters?  If you could get rid of this monstrosity in Marlins Park, you'd be doing your fans a great service.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Joey's Letter To Sandy Claus (2017)

I hope Sandy Claus brings me lots of presents.  If he needs bows for them, I've got just the place where he can find them.

Dear Sandy Claus,

Greetings from your No. 1 fan, Joey Beartran.  I hope you're not tired of my letters yet.  After all, this is the seventh time I've sent you one and your track record for giving me what I want for the holidays is as dependable as the experts who were certain that Matt Harvey was going to have a bounce-back campaign in 2017.  (Spoiler alert: He didn't.)

This year, I'm going to make my requests quite simple for you.  So simple that even a Nationals fan could understand them.  I'm going to go position by position and include lots of photos for visual aids.  If you still can't see what I'm asking for, just ask your assistant, Ricco the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  He'll light the way for you so you can acquire exactly what I'm wishing for.

Are you ready for my letter, Sandy Claus?  Because we have very little time before Christmas arrives and Spring Training starts earlier this year because of the March 29th season opener.  So put down that "How To Tell Awkward Jokes At Inopportune Moments" book you're so fond of and pay close attention to my missive.  The fate of the 2018 Mets depends on your undivided attention.

If at first you don't succeed, Sandy, try to read my letters more carefully!

At first base, we thought Dominic Smith was going to be the long-term answer.  To be honest with you, I still think he's the long-term solution.  Just because he batted .198 in 183 plate appearances during his late-season call-up doesn't mean he's going to turn into Mario Mendoza with a little pop and a craving for wet burritos.  How about looking at the fact that he drove in 26 runs in those limited times at the plate?  Smith batted .283 with runners in scoring position, which was higher than the team's combined .259 average in those situations.  On a team that occasionally had difficulty scoring runs, Smith averaged an RBI every 7.0 plate appearances.  Compare that to his financially stable teammate, Yoenis Céspedes, who drove in a run every 7.6 plate appearances despite possessing a .292 overall batting average on the season.  (Céspedes batted just .254 with RISP.)  Not even you can expect Smith to bat under .200 for a full season.  Imagine how many runs he'll drive in if he just gets his average up to Lucas Duda territory (.246).  Keep Dominic Smith at first base and you'll have given me my first present of the year.

Second base post-Daniel Murphy has turned into third base pre-Howard Johnson.  And that's not a good thing.

My sources tell me you want to trade for a second baseman.  I can see why, as last season, eight players attempted to play the position, with none of them playing more than 65 games there.  I was also told Ian Kinsler was your top target to become the team's everyday second sacker in 2018.  Well, he's with the Angels now after refusing to take the Mets off his no-trade clause.  Jason Kipnis has been discussed, but he's due to earn $31 million over the next two years (which includes a $2.5 buyout if he's not brought back for $16.5 million in 2020) and he's coming off an injury-riddled year in which he batted .232 in 90 games.

Sounds like your type of guy, Sandy.

Of course, if you don't get Cleveland to eat a chunk of his contract, we'd just be getting Neil Walker's salary back.  And it would serve as a reminder that Daniel Murphy was only paid $36 million for three years by Washington, or a lower average annual value than Kipnis is making for far less production at the plate.

Another option is Josh Harrison, a two-time All-Star as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates.  But I'm not impressed with his lack of pop - he's averaged ten homers per 162 games over his career - and doesn't walk very much, as evidenced by his career-high 28 walks last season.  He's also due to earn $10.5 million in 2018.  I'd like a little more production for that kind of money.

Here's the thing.  This might be an unpopular opinion, but I think a Wilmer Flores/Jose Reyes platoon isn't the worst thing that could happen to this team.  Flores would start against left-handed pitchers and Reyes would bat against righties.  We all know Flores isn't as productive as an everyday player, but has always been able to rake against southpaws.  Similarly, Reyes improved dramatically during the second half of the 2017 campaign, batting .288 with an .828 OPS after the All-Star break, as opposed to his .215 average and .655 OPS prior to the Midsummer Classic.  Both Flores and Reyes love playing for the Mets.  And they can both have their strong points come out in a second base platoon.  Flores will already be a Met in 2018.  Reyes would more than likely come back for far less money than the amount that would have to be doled out to Kipnis or Harrison.  I don't think a Flores/Reyes platoon would be the worst thing that could happen.

Abbott and Costello said "I don't know" is on third.  Sandy Claus claims Asdrubal Cabrera is there.  Who's right?

I'm glad you finally got those visions of David Wright dancing in your head out of your system.  If the $138 million man ever comes back, it should be as a backup player, albeit a very expensive one.  I'm also pleased you brought back Asdrubal Cabrera to play the position, although he had some difficulty there in 2017, making six errors in 40 starts as opposed to his error-free 32-game stint as the team's second baseman.  I think a full slate of Spring Training games at third will help him learn the position and he'll be fine.  But at the recently completed Winter Meetings, you did say, and I quote: "We've kind of zeroed (Cabrera) in at third base and we don't want to move him around, so while he gives us some flexibility, I'm not sure we want to exercise it."

Let me get one thing out of the way.  You're obsessed with the word "flexibility" the way Mike Piazza was always "frustrated" and Art Howe's guys "battled".  Stop that.  Now that I got that off my furry chest, I still think you need to acquire a good defensive third baseman in case Cabrera can't handle that end of the bargain.  I mean, if it's not Cabrera, then it's Flores at third, and we know how that's worked out in the past.  If Juan Lagares is going to be a part-time player in center field because of his defensive prowess, then why can't we have a guy who's a good glove at the hot corner for those times when we need steady defense?  At least you need someone there for when Cabrera demands a trade at some point during the regular season.

In case you hadn't noticed, I've intentionally skipped shortstop and catcher.  Hopefully, the lack of visual aids don't throw you off and you end up demoting Amed Rosario and signing a guy like, oh, let's say Jose Lobaton to be a potential backup catcher.  (Wait, you did the latter already?  Maybe I should have included that visual aid.)  That being said, I trust in you to leave Rosario as the starting shortstop and Travis d'Arnaud as the No. 1 catcher, especially since d'Arnaud set career highs in home runs (16) and RBI (57) despite not setting high marks in plate appearances.  He'll be 29 in February and may finally have taken the turn into being a solid contributor in the lineup.  Shortstop and catcher are not positions I need filled in my Christmas stocking this year.  Come to think of it, neither is the outfield, as Céspedes and Michael Conforto (when he's fully healed from his "that's so Mets" shoulder injury) will be out there, as will a combination of Juan Lagares, Brandon Nimmo and whatever scrap heap outfielder you can coerce to come to the team with the promise of a Mex Burger.  But pitching is another story...

What was once a strength has crumbled like a poorly-made biscuit.  Speaking of which, I may be a little hungry.

You know what I really want for Christmas more than anything?  I want the pitchers to not give up four runs and be taken out before the end of the fifth inning.  That kills their ERA and their bullpen brethren.  I mean, the team's collective ERA was 5.01.  Not since 1962 had the club's pitchers done something like that.  And it's never a good thing to be compared to that squad.

I also want more than one starter surpassing 120 innings, as Jacob deGrom was the only Met to reach that figure in 2017.  Back in 1983, Jesse Orosco and Doug Sisk had 110 and 104.1 IP, respectively.  It should be noted that both of them pitched exclusively in relief.  Now the Mets can't get starting pitchers with those numbers.  Hopefully, with the departure of Ray Ramirez, Robert Gsellman won't be second on the team in games started and Rafael Montero won't be asked to pitch 119 innings.  Just keep the pitchers healthy and in shape and I'll be a happy bear.

Mets pitchers allowed 220 HRs in 2017.  If the apple went up for opponents' blasts, it would've malfunctioned due to overuse.

So there you have it, Sandy.  You're the architect of this team.  If everything crumbles apart like it did in 2017, you're the one who has to take responsibility.  And once again, I don't want to hear about payroll or player flexibility.  The only flexibility I want to hear is the flexibility to hire someone who can make Mex Burgers great again.  They used to be my go-to burger at Citi Field, but the one I ordered last season reminded me of the burgers in the "Where's The Beef?" campaign used by Wendy's in the mid-'80s.  And trust me, that's not a good thing.

I've got a beef with the lack of beef on Mex Burgers.

Did you get all that, Sandy?  If you didn't, allow me to recap my letter for you.  Keep Dominic Smith on the field and away from wet burritos.  Settle on a second baseman that won't make us constantly remind you that you didn't bring back Daniel Murphy.  Don't go back to the days when Mets fans counted the number of third basemen in team history.  Have current starting pitchers on the mound for more innings than 1980s relievers.  And speaking of the '80s, find some beef to put on those tasty burgers at Keith's Grill.  Or just reduce the size of the buns, call them Mex Sliders and give us three per serving.

Thanks so much for reading my letter, Sandy Claus.  I know it's hard to grant everyone's wishes, but I think it's about time you answered mine.  I've been writing for seven years and all I've gotten from you is one pennant, one early wild card exit and five losing seasons.  I'm too faithful to the team to get that kind of treatment, don't you think?

I hope you, Ricco the Red-Nosed Reindeer and all of your jolly elves have a Happy Holiday season.  Until then, I'll just sit here by the fire on top of these unopened presents, hoping that because Ray Ramirez is gone, I won't give myself a paper cut while I unwrap them on Christmas Day.

Love and Mex Burgers forever,
Joey Beartran

I hope my Mets knit cap doesn't catch fire.  If so, I'll have to add something else to my letter to Sandy Claus.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

A Joey and Iggy Beartran Thanksgiving (2017)

After attending the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, it's time to share what we're thankful for!

Hi, Mets fans!  We're Joey and Iggy Beartran and today is the most wonderful day of the year.  It's Thanksgiving, a day in which we gain all the weight we say we're going to lose in six weeks once we make our New Year's resolutions.  But we know that promise to lose weight is just a lie, just like the Mets saying they have payroll flexibility when we know they're returning empty bottles and cans to the supermarket just to collect the five cent deposit.

Speaking of five cents, Iggy and I are going to contribute ours to this blog post, as we share what we're thankful for as the baseball off-season continues and the countdown to Opening Day begins in earnest.  (For all you kids out there, March 29 is only 126 days away.)

So sit back, stop watching football games that don't involve the team you root for, ignore the awkward photos your aunt Tillie is trying to show you at the adults' table - don't you wish you were still young enough to sit at the kids' table - and enjoy reading what we're thankful for.  Since we all rooted for the Mets in 2017, I can guarantee this read won't take too much time away from your Thanksgiving plans.

Dig in to our blog post!

Joey:  I'm thankful we got to visit two new ballparks this year, as we attended games at SunTrust Park in Atlanta (a Mets win) and Marlins Park in Miami (let's not talk about the final result of that one).

Iggy:  I'm thankful we didn't have Matt Harvey starting both games we went to on the road.  I almost got whiplash from twisting my head so much to watch all the hits he gave up in Miami.  I would have had to fly home in a neck brace had he started in Atlanta as well.

Spoiler Alert: This was the final score of the game we went to in Miami.

Joey:  I'm thankful for Terry Collins.  Although he won't be back to manage the Mets in 2018, he did the best he could with the Quadruple-A players he was forced to put in the lineup because of injuries to the established major leaguers on the roster and the financial restraints that wouldn't allow the front office to give All-Stars like Daniel Murphy more than $36 million over three seasons.

Iggy:  Joey, you're just thankful for Terry Collins because you liked having a guy on the Mets who was your height.  I'm more thankful that Mickey Callaway is now the Mets' manager.  He knows how to deal with pitchers and has a plan in place.  Plus, he turned Corey Kluber from a mediocre pitcher to a two-time Cy Young Award winner.  If he could do that, he could turn Matt Harvey back into a guy who won't hurt my neck to watch him pitch, g*d*mmit!

Matt Harvey in cartoon form.

Joey:  I'm thankful Michael Conforto and Yoenis Céspedes should be back at full strength come Opening Day.  When healthy, they can each hit 30 homers and drive in close to 100 runs.

Iggy:  And I'm thankful we have Juan Lagares, Brandon Nimmo, and the scrap heap outfielders Sandy Alderson will eventually sign by promising them a couple of bucks and a coupon to Shake Shack.  Because you don't know how Conforto and Céspedes will play after the former got hurt swinging the bat and the latter got hurt running to the bank to deposit his gargantuan check before they closed for the day.  (Yoenis should really get direct deposit.  Just sayin'.)

This high-five is an injury waiting to happen.  (Elsa/Getty Images)

Joey:  Finally, I'm thankful the team is doing whatever it can to return to prominence after its two-year postseason run ended with a disappointing 70-92 campaign in 2017.  Whether it be signing a free agent, trading for a veteran All-Star caliber player, or just improving the way players train during the off-season, the Mets are not going to roll over and die in 2018.

Iggy:  I'm just thankful Ray Ramirez's career with the Mets rolled over and died.

Ray Ramirez is not impressed.  (Amazin' Avenue via SNY)

Well, that's all folks!  Despite the Mets' poor performance in 2017, we still found things to be grateful for on this Thanksgiving Day.  Although I feel like Iggy was more thankful to have a platform in which to voice her displeasure at the team than anything else.

From our family to yours, we'd like to wish you a very happy Thanksgiving.  We hope you enjoy your holiday feasts and be sure to save some leftovers for us.  We already have a disgruntled bear in Iggy today.  There's no need to make her hangry as well.


As always, ya gotta believe.  Even if the team is coming off a miserable year.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

A Tribute to My Grandfather, Who Taught Me Love and Baseball

My grandparents moved to Puerto Rico when I was three years old.  After they moved to San Juan, I would only see them for a few weeks at a time when my parents and I would visit them during my summer vacation from school.  Because those trips would coincide with the middle of baseball season, my grandfather would always want to talk to me about the game.

When I was eight years old, I discovered that Abuelo (that's Spanish for "grandfather") was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan.  He, my grandmother and their four children (one of which is my father) moved from the Island of Enchantment to New York in 1947, the same year Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball.  Robinson wasn't the only reason he became a Dodger fan, as 1947 was also the year Gil Hodges and Duke Snider came up to the major leagues to stay.  The Dodgers won the pennant in 1947, making only their second trip to the World Series since 1920.  They would make many more over the next few decades.  Abuelo was hooked for life.

The summer of 1981 was special for both Abuelo and I.  It was the year I became a Mets fan, but it was also the year of Fernandomania.  That summer, when my parents and I went to visit my grandparents in Puerto Rico, the players' strike was nearing its conclusion.  But just because there was no baseball to watch didn't mean there were no baseball stories to share. 

Any time I wanted to talk about Mookie Wilson, my grandfather would remind me that he wasn't as fast as Maury Wills.  (Wills was the first major league player in the modern era to steal 100 bases in a season, swiping 104 bags for the Dodgers in 1962, which was 45 more than the entire Mets team stole in their inaugural season.)  I knew better than to argue with him.

After a few minutes, the conversation would always turn to Fernando Valenzuela, who had taken the country by storm during his rookie season.  Abuelo would normally be in bed by 10 PM every night, but if Valenzuela was pitching and the game just happened to be broadcast on the local television channel, he'd always stay up to watch the game on a 13-inch black and white TV.  He'd keep the volume low so as not to wake my grandmother, telling me that he didn't need to hear the game because Fernando's pitching would tell the story.  In the summer of 1981, he was absolutely right.

I'll always remember talking to him on the phone after the Mets won the World Series in 1986.  He was thrilled that I was finally able to celebrate a championship, but he was also quick to remind me that despite the Mets boasting a pitching staff that included Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Bob Ojeda and Sid Fernandez, it was Fernando Valenzuela who led the National League in wins.  (Valenzuela won 21 games for the Dodgers in 1986; his only 20-win campaign in 17 years in the big leagues.)

Oh, Abuelo.  He really loved his Dodgers.

Two years after the Mets won the World Series, they played for the right to appear in another.  But this time it was different.  This time, the Mets were playing the Dodgers for the pennant.  A member of the Leyro family was going to see his favorite team play in the World Series in 1988.  But for that to happen, another member of the Leyro family was going to be disappointed that his team failed to reach the Fall Classic.  It was about as awkward as it was ever going to get between me and Abuelo when it came to our shared love of the national pastime.  In the end, it became one of the most important times in our relationship.

The Dodgers defeated the Mets in the 1988 NLCS, upsetting them in seven games.  The Mets weren't the only ones upset by that result.  The day after Game Seven, the phone rang in our house.  My mother picked it up, spoke for a few seconds, then called me over to the phone.  It was for me, she said.  It was Abuelo.

I thought it was strange that Abuelo would call me.  After all, any time I'd speak to him on the phone, it would be my grandmother who called us and then she'd pass the phone over to Abuelo.  (The men in the Leyro family have never been known as "phone people".)  But this time, my grandfather let his fingers do the walking and he called me directly.  Nearly three decades have passed since this call was made, but I'll never forget that conversation.

Not once did he mention the Dodgers while talking to me.  Nor did he mention the Mets.  Instead, he reminded me that there would be times in life when we'd question why things happened the way they did.  He told me that he once went on a date with a girl when he was 18.  She was his definition of "the perfect girl".  She was smart, beautiful and came from a great family.  He was sure after one date that he was going to marry her.  Two dates later, she decided she didn't want to see him anymore.  He was crushed.

After two years of wondering where he went wrong, he made the acquaintance of another local girl.  Abuelo admitted to me that he wasn't attracted to her at first, but she listened to his story of lost love and gave him words of encouragement.  They continued to talk as friends for nearly a year until he realized something.

He was falling in love.  And this time, the girl he loved felt the same way about him.

The year was 1933.  In 1934, they were married.

When Abuelo finished telling me the story of how he and Abuela met and fell in love, I thanked him for making me smile.  I thought that was the reason he was sharing his story with me, because I was upset that my Mets had lost to his Dodgers and I would need some cheering up.  But that wasn't why he told me the story.  He then went back to the beginning of our conversation, the part where he said there would be times in life when we'd question why things happened the way they did.

For two years, he wondered to himself why the love of his life didn't love him back.  But without that unexpected breakup, he never would have met my grandmother, a woman he would be married to until she passed away in 2001.  He then told me to think about his words and to "never stop believing" before hanging up.

It took me until that evening, but as I was getting ready for bed, it finally hit me.  Abuelo was using his story as an analogy.  I was questioning how the Mets could lose to the Dodgers in the playoffs after defeating them 10 of 11 times during the regular season, just like he had questioned why the girl he loved couldn't reciprocate those feelings for him.  He had to wait two years after suffering through a devastating heartbreak, but in the end, it netted him the love of his life.  Therefore, what Abuelo was telling me was that he knew I was heartbroken because of the Mets' loss to the Dodgers, but before long, they'd be back and I'd love them more than ever.

You know what?  He was right.

Sure, it took 11 years for the Mets to make it back to the postseason, but when they did, they went to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons and made their first trip to the World Series since 1986.  And when they did, Abuelo was the first person who called me to offer a congratulatory message.

Abuelo didn't make it to see the next two Mets/Dodgers postseason matchups in 2006 and 2015, as he passed away five days after his 90th birthday in 2002.  But when the Mets defeated the Dodgers to advance to the NLCS in both campaigns, the first person I thought of was him.  What did I think of?  That he didn't have to feel sad because the team he loved would be back.  And they did, as the Dodgers have won seven division titles in the last ten seasons.  Somewhere in Heaven, I knew Abuelo was smiling.  And now he's probably smiling even more, as the Dodgers are playing for their first World Series title since the year he called me to tell me a story about love and patience.

There is a point to this personal story.  You see, Abuelo was born on October 29, 1912.  That means today would have been his 105th birthday.  He and I never went to a Mets/Dodgers game together, but we didn't have to.  The stories took us there.

When I was eight years old, Abuelo shared his love of the Dodgers with me at the same time I was trying to share my love of the Mets with him.  He never became a Mets fan, just as I never became a Dodgers fan.  But we shared that love of baseball that no rivalry can break.  That love brought us together and provided me with some of my most wonderful childhood memories - memories that I continue to cherish as an adult.

Sometimes we question why things happen the way they do.  I never have to question why I loved my grandfather.  He was the most important man I've ever known.

Happy 105th birthday, Abuelo.  And thank you for always taking me out to the ballgame.

Dedicated to Horacio Leyro (October 29, 1912 - November 3, 2002)

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Joey's Soapbox: My 2017 Not-At-All Biased World Series Pick

Pardon me for being a little distracted.  The Astros are trying to bribe me with food.

What's going on, everyone?  It's me, Joey Beartran.  After nearly a month of watching several opening acts, the band we came to see is finally taking the stage, as the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers will face off in this year's World Series.

As a Mets fan, I'm pleased that the Astros took care of business and got to the good part, eliminating the Yankees in the ALCS.  Of course, with Houston reaching the World Series, that means Carlos Beltran will once again be trying to win his first ring.  (YAY!)  But since he and his teammates are facing the Dodgers, that means Chase Utley is still playing, and that's never something to root for.  (BOO!)

But as you know, my postseason predictions are never biased.  Not at all.  Therefore, when I picked the Astros to win the ALCS, it was because I thought they were a better team than the Yankees (and I was right).  I also chose the Cubs to go back to the World Series because I assumed the Dodgers didn't have what it took to dethrone them (and I was wrong).

And now, I have the difficult decision of trying to figure out if I want the World Series champion to be the team that employs Carlos Beltran, is in search of its first championship and is a lot of fun to watch.  Or will I go with the team that still gives Mets fans nightmares when they think of 1988, is currently paying Utley's salary and kept head cheerleader Curtis Granderson off its World Series roster?

I'm going to be totally professional with this pick.  Just like annoying and predictable Yankee fans and their team's rings, you can count on it!

World Series

Houston Astros vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

In September 2010, the Philadelphia Phillies were on their way to a fourth consecutive N.L. East crown.  The Mets, meanwhile, were just playing out the schedule and trying to avoid having their division rivals clinch that title against them.

In the series opener, Ruben Tejada was upended at second base by Chase Utley, who slid hard and late into the neophyte.  Carlos Beltran, Tejada's teammate at the time, took exception to Utley's act and decided to go eye-for-an-eye, leg-for-a-leg the following day.  After the game, the normally soft-spoken Beltran shared his feelings on what Utley did and his attempt at payback.

"The way Chase Utley slid into second base, I felt like it was time for me to do the same thing he did - slide hard and try to hit somebody," Beltran said.  "He did cross the line.  Not only in that play, he has done things in the past, like blocking bases.  It's okay to play hard.  It's okay to get outs.  Once you try to hurt somebody, that's not fun."

Fast forward five years to 2015.  Beltran is long gone, having played for the Giants, Cardinals and Yankees since his close encounter of the turd kind.  (And by turd, I mean Utley.)  Meanwhile, Utley is now a Dodger and Tejada is still playing the middle infield for the Mets.  The two got reacquainted in October when Los Angeles and New York hooked up in the NLDS.  And five years didn't change Utley's penchant for ordering take out at second base.

As all Mets fans know, Utley broke Tejada's leg with a slide that was harder and more deliberate than the original 2010 model.  Beltran could only watch on television, as his Yankees were eliminated by the Houston Astros in that year's American League wild card game.

Now, Beltran is a member of the Astros, Utley is reading the latest Dodger Blue edition of "How to Get Away With Murdering a Middle Infielder" and Tejada is playing Musical Teams, having played for the Cardinals, Giants, Yankees and Orioles organizations in the two years since his leg fracture.  I wonder which player Tejada is rooting for in this year's World Series...

Seven years after Beltran defended his former Mets teammate and two years after he couldn't do a thing to help his fallen friend, Beltran can finally get the ultimate payback by denying Utley the World Series ring that has eluded Beltran for his entire 20-year career.  And you better believe he's going to go all out to get that ring, even if he has to take out Utley to get it.

Oh, I was supposed to pick a World Series winner, wasn't I?  And it was supposed to be my unbiased opinion as a professional prognosticator, right?  Okay, I can do that.

Houston will find a way to solve Justin Turner and his Dodger colleagues.  The Astros' mostly right-handed hitting lineup will tee off on southpaw Clayton Kershaw, also known as the guy with the most postseason losses in Dodgers history.  Yasiel Puig will go home without flipping his bat once, unless you want to count throwing the bat away in disgust after each time Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander strike him out.  Jose Altuve will be the World Series MVP.  And Carlos Beltran will come off the bench to deliver a key double, one that will require a slide into second base.  The Dodgers better hope Logan Forsythe is starting at second base that night instead of their other second sacker.

Take my unbiased opinion and shove it, Chase Utley.

Prediction: Astros in 7.

Like a knee to the face, the Astros will make things uncomfortable for the Dodgers.  (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Friday, October 20, 2017

I'm Keith Hernandez! I Wish Me a Happy Birthday!

Hello, my friends.  I'm Keith Hernandez.  And today is a special day for me.  You see, today is my birthday.  That's right, all you kids out there.  I'm now 64 years old.

In honor of my 64th birthday, the cast and crew at Studious Metsimus asked me to give you a brief recap of my life.  To be honest with you, I've never heard of Studious Metsimus, but the offer of unlimited Tootsie Pops was too much to refuse.  Plus, they promised me there would be no traffic on the Long Island Expressway so I could make a quick getaway after writing this piece.  How could I pass that up?

Anyway, I was born in San Francisco on October 20, 1953.  Contrary to popular belief, I was not born with a mustache.  The picture you see below is one of my early photos.  Yes, the ladies loved me even then.  Can you blame them?  I mean, look at me!  I'm Keith Hernandez!

Unfortunately, I failed in my petition to get my own name on my Little League jersey.

After my days as a Little League Lothario were done, I was drafted in the 42nd round by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1971.  (Yes, I did go to high school between my Little League days and my high school graduation, but that was an awkward time for me, so I'd rather not talk about it.)  Clearly, the scouts back then were terrible judges of talent if they waited that long to draft me.  Unfortunately, I did nothing to earn that selection early on in my minor league career until I was promoted to Triple-A Tulsa in 1973, where I hit .333 and showed those other kids out there how a real baseball player was supposed to play the game.

In 1974, I hit .351 for Tulsa and was promoted to the big show on August 30 of that year against my hometown San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park.  I reached base three times in my first big league game, drawing two walks before collecting my first big league hit and RBI in the ninth inning off Giants' starter Mike Caldwell.  Unfortunately, we lost that game 8-2, but I let it be known to my teammates and the rest of the league that I was here to stay.

Once I settled in to the big leagues, I made my presence felt in the clubhouse and on the field.  The Cardinals just had to keep me around.  Therefore, they traded incumbent first baseman Joe Torre to the Mets after the 1974 season (more on first basemen being traded to the Mets a little later ... after a few more paragraphs and my first Tootsie Pop).  I was a Cardinal now, and St. Louis was about to see what Keith Hernandez was all about.

It was in St. Louis that I let my trademark mustache grow.  The Gateway City was also where I earned my first Gold Glove in 1978 and my first MVP Award one year later.  (Okay, so it was a co-MVP award that I shared with Willie Stargell.  But in Strat-O-Matic, I kicked Willie's posterior.)  In addition, St. Louis was the place where I claimed my first batting title (also in 1979), my first World Series championship (1982), my first line of... umm ... baseball cards (yeah, that's the ticket) and my first comparison to adult film thespian Ron Jeremy.

If my brother Gary were in this collage, you'd have the original Gary, Keith and Ron.

If you ask me, I don't see the resemblance.   He looks more like Mike Piazza than he does me.  Also, my acting skills are far superior to his.  Was he on "Seinfeld"?  I don't think so.  That was me.  Why did they choose me over him?  Because I'm Keith Hernandez!

Anyway, less than eight months after bringing home St. Louis' first World Series championship since 1967, I experienced one of the saddest days of my life, or so it seemed at the time.  On June 15, 1983, I was traded from the defending world champion Cardinals to the perennial cellar dweller New York Mets.  Shockingly, I wasn't even traded for future Hall of Famers.  I was shipped off to the Mets for Neil Allen, Rick Ownbey (who also celebrates a birthday with me today, but he's four years my junior) and a half-empty box of Tender Vittles.  Even my beloved cat, Hadji, wouldn't be impressed with that transaction.

It was already an insult to me that I was traded to the team known as "Pond Scum" and the "Stems" in St. Louis.  But come on!  Couldn't the Mets have offered some 9 Lives to the Cardinals instead of Tender Vittles?  After all, Morris the Cat was all the rage back then.  I mean, he was the O.G.  (Original Grumpy cat).   I would have accepted a trade for Allen, Ownbey and 9 Lives, not Allen, Ownbey and half-eaten Tender Vittles.  Sheesh!

I guess since the Cardinals already had the Clydesdale Horses, they didn't need another animal in the barn.

Anyway, the Mets didn't do too well after I got traded there.  We finished 68-94 in 1983, but showed some signs of life.  Old punching buddy Darryl Strawberry came up in May and future broadcast colleague R.J. (that's Ron Darling for all you casual Mets fans out there) was called up when rosters expanded in September.

Big Brother didn't come around in 1984 like he was supposed to, but we had our own little Animal Farm at Shea Stadium.  Top pitching prospect Dwight Gooden was called up in 1984 and Davey Johnson became the new Mets manager.  The team responded by going 90-72 and giving the Cubs all they could handle in the N.L. East.  As a result, I was no longer saddened by my trade to New York and only occasionally did I wonder if Whitey Herzog had finished what was left over in the box of Tender Vittles.

After falling short in the N.L. East race again in 1985, we put it all together in 1986.  That was the year I won my second World Series championship and helped bring the first title to Flushing since the Miracle Mets did the same in 1969.  I also paired up with another Ronnie after bringing the trophy home in 1986. 

What?  No Gary?  Fine.  Then we'll just have to make do with Keith and Ron instead.

Just as my tenure with the Mets was coming to an end, I decided I should give acting a try.  I wasn't planning on telling you this, but the Tootsie Pop dangling in front of my face has convinced me to do so.

Did you know that "Seinfeld" was not my first attempt at acting?  Before TV immortality, I wanted to be a movie star.  My time with former actor Ronald Reagan in the White House showed me that if he could be President and a movie star, then I could be a baseball legend and a matinee idol as well, so it was off to Hollywood for me.

I first gave acting a shot when I auditioned for the movie "Major League".  However, it ended up being a bad dream and instead of playing for the Cleveland Indians in the film alongside noted actors Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernsen, Dennis Haysbert and Wesley Snipes, I ended up playing for the REAL Cleveland Indians, who were not nearly as talented as their counterparts from this past season.  You know, the team that won an A.L. record 22 consecutive games en route to a second straight A.L. Central title.  Needless to say, it was not a good time to be Keith Hernandez.

There's no way I would've let Roger Dorn get away with not diving for ground balls.

I was injured for most of my time in Cleveland.  Because of that, I only played in 45 games for the Indians, batting .200 with one HR and eight RBI.  You know it wasn't a good season when my Studious Metsimus editor reminded me that I had to write out my home run and RBI totals in words (one and eight) instead of numbers (1 and 8).  Needless to say, I retired after the 1990 season and went back home...

...which didn't last long.  In 1992, I appeared on Episode No. 34 of "Seinfeld".  The special one-hour episode, named "The Boyfriend", featured me trying to date Elaine Benes, but not being able to get past first base because I used to smoke back then.  Another subplot involved me being accused of spitting a magic loogie on Kramer and Newman, when in fact it was my former Met teammate, Roger McDowell, whose mouth shot the viscous projectile from the grassy knoll.

"That is one magic loogie."

My appearance on "Seinfeld" in 1992 and my subsequent cameo in the series finale in 1998 parlayed into several broadcasting appearances for the Mets.  When SNY debuted in 2006, I teamed up with former radio play-by-play man Gary Cohen and analyst/former teammate Ron Darling as the new broadcast team for the New York Mets.  My boothmates and I are also part of Gary, Keith and Ron, or GKR for short.  Together, we've raised money for our favorite charities, such as the Cobble Hill Health Center (for Alzheimer's care) and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (hoping to find a cure for Type 1 diabetes).  In addition, we've also focused on helping victims of domestic abuse.  And for all you kids out there, there's nothing funny about domestic abuse.

Fans might know me for my baseball career.  Others might know me for my excellent acting on "Seinfeld".  Some of you might even know me for my Just For Men commercials with Walt "Clyde" Frazier.  Current Met fans certainly know me for my unabashed analysis on SNY telecasts of Mets games.  And now, the rest of the country is getting reacquainted with me as I offer colorful commentary in the FOX Sports/FS1 studio for that network's pre-game and post-game shows.

I'm all of those people.  Although I'm a year older today, I'm still only 64 so I have plenty left to accomplish.  Maybe I'll mass produce my Mex Burgers.  Or perhaps I'll go from flashing the leather to wearing it on a broadcast.  Hey, I might even create a fantasy league for Strat-O-Matic players.  (Why haven't I thought of that before?)  Who knows?  One thing is for sure.  No matter what job I have or what position I fill, I'll always be around.  Why wouldn't I be?  After all, I'm Keith Hernandez!

It's not easy being me, but I wouldn't trade it for the world.