Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Song Parody: We're Underdogs!

Earlier this week, the Mets received a little gift in their lockers from Jeff Wilpon.  No, it wasn't a "get out of jail free" card.  It was an Underdog T-shirt.

For those who don't remember Underdog (such as Ike Davis and Dillon Gee, who claimed to not have a clue who the character was), he was a cartoon dog who always saved the day.  Most players didn't have a problem with the bright orange gift.  But not everyone felt the gift was necessary.

A certain player who makes his living at a high-temperature corner (we won't say David Wright's name to protect the innocent) thought he and his teammates shouldn't be viewed as underdogs because they know what they're capable of.  That would seem to be contrary to what R.A. Dickey said on Tuesday, where he believed the Mets would need "three or four Jeremy Lins" to be competitive in the NL East.

The unnamed player who answers whenever someone calls for David Wright should probably look on the bright side.  After all, now he can wear the Underdog shirt so that he doesn't have to wear the T-shirt given to him by Dickey.  ("Somebody climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.")

In honor of this event, we at Studious Metsimus have decided to write our latest song parody, based on the theme song to the old Underdog cartoon.  Since we couldn't come up with a better title, our version is called "We're Underdogs!"  Enjoy!

There's reason to cheer!  Underdog shirts are here!

When cronies whisper in Wilpon's ear
Telling him that last place is near
It heightens his tensions and fears
So it's time to get his team new gear
We're Underdogs!  Underdogs!  Underdogs!  Underdogs!

David Wright thinks it's a blunder
Ike and Gee are left to wonder
Who's Underdog?  Who the f**k is Underdog?

In Wilpon's world, won't sell the team
Breaking fans' hearts like a bad dream
But Fred and Jeff know what the team needs
So they went out; got orange T's
Wear Underdog!  Underdog!  Underdog!  Underdog!

Team morale is torn asunder
For a shirt that makes them wonder
Who's Underdog?  Who's f**kin' Underdog?

Monday, February 27, 2012

One Season Wonders: Bret Saberhagen

In 1991, the Mets went into the season with a manager other than Davey Johnson for the first time since 1983. Perhaps not coincidentally, the 1991 season ended with the Mets registering their first losing record since the aforementioned '83 campaign.

During the Mets' seven-year string of excellence from 1984-1990, the team prided itself on having a strong starting rotation.  Pitchers like Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, Bobby Ojeda, David Cone and Frank Viola had all contributed excellent seasons for the Mets during that period.  But a lot was changing as a result of the 1991 season.

Ron Darling was traded to Montreal at the 1991 trade deadline. Also gone were Bobby Ojeda, who was traded to Los Angeles prior to the 1991 season, and Frank Viola, who signed as a free agent with the Boston Red Sox after losing 10 of his last 12 decisions with the Mets in 1991.

Of the pitchers still on the Mets,  Sid Fernandez was coming off an injury-plagued season in which he only made eight starts, winning one of them.  David Cone lost a career-high 14 games in 1991, despite leading the league with 241 strikeouts.  And Dwight Gooden, the long-time ace of the staff, had undergone rotator-cuff surgery in September and was not a lock to be ready for the start of the 1992 season.

The Mets needed a quality starting pitcher and they needed one fast.  They also wanted a young pitcher who was a proven winner and could give them plenty of innings.  Five years after acquiring David Cone from Kansas City, they went back to the Royals and found themselves the ace they wanted in 27-year-old Bret Saberhagen.

The Mets hoped Bret Saberhagen would be the apple of their eye when they traded for him in 1991.

Bret William Saberhagen had done it all in the major leagues before his 28th birthday.  He was a two-time All-Star (1987, 1990), a Gold Glove Award winner (1989), a two-time Cy Young Award winner (1985, 1989), had pitched a no-hitter (1991) and was a World Series MVP, pitching the Kansas City Royals to their first and only title in 1985.  One thing he hadn't done was pitch in a large market city, as Kansas City wasn't exactly the media capital of the world, or even Missouri for that matter.

But with the Mets in need of a quality arm to anchor their depleted staff, Saberhagen seemed like the perfect fit.  So on December 11, 1991, the Mets traded Kevin McReynolds, Gregg Jefferies and Keith Miller to the Royals for Saberhagen and Bill Pecota.  The cost to acquire the front-line starter they coveted was steep, as McReynolds, Jefferies and Miller were all regulars on the 1991 Mets, but the Mets were desperate for an ace, and Saberhagen fit the bill.

As good as Saberhagen was during his eight-year stay with the Royals, he did suffer from the even-year, odd-year syndrome.  Saberhagen finished with a losing record in every even-numbered year, going a combined 36-48 with a 3.70 ERA and 1.23 WHIP in 1984, 1986, 1988 and 1990.  However, in odd-numbered years, Saberhagen was an elite pitcher.  In 1985, 1987, 1989 and 1991, Sabes combined to go 74-30 with a 2.85 ERA and 1.06 WHIP.  His first year with the Mets was going to be an even-numbered year.  You can imagine what happened next.

Bret Saberhagen was one of a number of new faces brought in by general manager Al Harazin prior to the 1992 season.  With Eddie Murray, Bobby Bonilla and manager Jeff Torborg on board, Saberhagen was supposed to be the crown jewel of the offseason haul.  Instead, he turned out to be the cubic zirconia version of his former self.

Injuries prevented Saberhagen from performing at the level the Mets expected of him, and as a result, he was only able to make 15 starts, going 3-5 with a 3.50 ERA.  The next year, everyone expected a bounceback season from Saberhagen, especially since it was an odd-numbered year.  The only problem was that it was only Saberhagen who everyone expected to bounce back.  The rest of the team was another story.

In 1993, the Mets produced their worst record in twenty-six years.  Not since the days before Gil Hodges' arrival as manager had the Mets been so awful.  The '93 squad finished the year with a 59-103 record, and it could have been much worse had it not been for a season-ending six-game winning streak.  The Mets were so bad in 1993 that even the expansion Florida Marlins finished ahead of them in the seven-team National League East.  Needless to say, Bret Saberhagen did not win a lot of ballgames in '93.  However, he wasn't that bad compared to his teammates.

Although injuries curtailed Saberhagen's season for the second consecutive year, he was the only starter to not finish the season with a losing record.  In addition to his 7-7 record in 19 starts, Saberhagen had a respectable 3.29 ERA and an outstanding 1.06 WHIP.  The low WHIP was a direct result of Saberhagen's excellent control, as he walked a mere 17 batters in his 19 starts.

After two injury-plagued seasons in 1992 and 1993, the Mets still had not gotten what they expected from their ace.  However, when Saberhagen was healthy in 1993, he showed he could be one of the stingiest pitchers in baseball.  All he needed was one season of good health, just one, to prove that he could still be one of the best pitchers in the game.  That wish became a reality in 1994.

After their horrific 1993 season, the Mets weren't expected to do much in 1994.  But they surprised most experts over the first month and a half of the season, jumping out to a quick start.  The Mets weren't doing it with their hitting (they finished next-to-last in the NL in batting average in 1994) or their baserunning skills.  (Jose Vizcaino went 1-for-12 in stolen base attempts and John Cangelosi led the team in thefts with five - that's one, two, three, four, FIVE STEALS!)  But the one thing they had in 1994 that they didn't have in 1993 was a healthy Bret Saberhagen.  And his health was instrumental in getting the Mets off to their quick start.  In the team's first 32 games, Saberhagen was 4-1 with a 3.09 ERA.  As a result, through May 10, the Mets were in second place with an 18-14 record, just 2½ games behind the first place Atlanta Braves.

Saberhagen split his next four decisions as the Mets slipped below .500.  But beginning with his start on June 13 against the defending National League champion Phillies, Saberhagen went on a roll that lasted until the end of the season.  On that fateful night, Saberhagen pitched beautifully, allowing two runs (one earned) in seven innings, needing only 94 pitches to stifle the high-powered Phillies' offense.  It was a far cry from his previous outing against Philadelphia, a four-inning, seven-run debacle on May 21.  The confidence he gained by beating the Phillies in mid-June lasted for the rest of the season, as Saberhagen was pretty much unhittable after that game.

Beginning with his final start in June, Saberhagen had one of the finest extended stretches in club history.  From June 30 to his last start of the season, Sabes went 7-0 with a 1.51 ERA and 0.85 WHIP.  Even more impressive was his strikeout-to-walk ratio, as Saberhagen struck out 62 batters over his final nine starts while walking only five.  That's one, two, three, four, FIVE WALKS, as in the same number of steals John Cangelosi had all season.

During this second-half surge, Saberhagen pitched what was perhaps his best game as a Met against the San Diego Padres on July 15.  In the second game of a twi-night doubleheader against the Padres, Saberhagen pitched ten scoreless innings, allowing five hits (all singles) while striking out 11 and walking none.  Unfortunately, Padres' starter Andy Benes matched Saberhagen zero-for-zero, striking out 14 Mets batters in eight innings of work.  Saberhagen's valiant effort went for naught, as the Mets lost the game, 2-1 in 14 innings, when Mike Maddux allowed back-to-back home runs to Tony Gwynn (the best hitter in Padres' history) and Phil Plantier (the current hitting coach for the Padres).

After Saberhagen defeated the Phillies again on August 10 to improve his record to 14-4, the Mets stood only two games under .500 with a 55-57 record.  It was Saberhagen's seventh consecutive victory, a streak that began on June 30 when the Mets entered the day in last place with a 33-43 record.  Since then, the Mets had gone 22-14 and had climbed into third place in the NL East.  The Mets lost their next game in 15 innings and then lost the season soon after, as the baseball strike put an end to the 1994 season.  Who knows what Bret Saberhagen would have accomplished had the season not been cut short?

Despite the premature ending to the 1994 season, it still went down in history as the year in which Bret Saberhagen produced one of the best pitching performances in club annals.  For the year, Saberhagen went 14-4, but that didn't tell the whole story.  His 2.74 ERA and 1.03 WHIP were both second in the National League to Atlanta's Greg Maddux.  Saberhagen also finished in the top ten in wins (14, 3rd), winning percentage (.778, 2nd), innings pitched (177
⅓, 3rd), strikeouts (143, 4th) and complete games (4, 4th).  He also had the dubious distinction of finishing the year with more wins (14) than walks (13).  In addition, by recording 143 strikeouts against only 13 bases on balls, Saberhagen finished the year with an unheard of 11:1 K/BB ratio.  How unheard of was it?  To this day, it's still a major league record.

After two injury-plagued seasons in 1992 and 1993, Saberhagen finally produced the season the Mets expected from him during his third year in New York, making the All-Star team and finishing third in the Cy Young Award vote.  His 1994 campaign came on the heels of his infamous bleach-spraying incident, a matter that earned him a four-game suspension to start the '94 season and caused him to be discussed in trade talks with the Cleveland Indians, a trade that would have brought shortstop Felix Fermin and young right-handed starter Albie Lopez to the Mets.  Fortunately for the Mets, that deal was never consummated, as Fermin went on to hit .190 in 1995 and 1996 (after a .317 campaign in 1994) and Lopez posted a career ERA just under 5.00 in a decade-long major league career.

The 1995 season didn't begin as scheduled, as the strike knocked out the first three weeks of the regular season.  The season finally did get underway in late April, but Bret Saberhagen left his best stuff behind.  Although Saberhagen was decent in 16 starts for the Mets in 1995, he only won five games.  His 3.35 ERA and 1.14 WHIP, although both good, were nowhere near his numbers from his record-setting 1994 campaign.  Also, his strikeout-to-walk ratio decreased dramatically in 1995, as Saberhagen struck out 71 batters while walking 20 in his 16 starts.  The 3.55 K/BB ratio was a far cry from his major league record 11.00 K/BB mark in 1994.

As a result, Saberhagen was traded to the Colorado Rockies in July for minor league pitchers Arnold Gooch and Juan Acevedo.  Although the move was widely speculated to be payroll-related, Mets' co-owner Fred Wilpon said it was due to Saberhagen's injury history and lack of overall productivity during his 3½-year stay in New York.  Wilpon had decided that Mets needed to get younger to get better, and Saberhagen was not part of that equation.  Besides, Generation K was about to take Flushing by storm.  Until it didn't.

One thing Fred Wilpon was right about was that Bret Saberhagen wasn't very durable.  In fact, Saberhagen only had one more injury-free season left in him, going 15-8 in 31 starts for the 1998 Red Sox.  Although Saberhagen did pitch in the majors until 2001, he was never able to stay healthy once he left the Mets, save for that 1998 season.  A career that once looked so promising fizzled out earlier than expected, as Saberhagen appeared in only three games after his 36th birthday.

If not for injuries and Bleach-gate, Bret Saberhagen's career as a Met could have been truly special.

From 1992 to 1995, Bret Saberhagen was never as bad as people made him out to be.  Although he won only 29 games as a Met (the same total won by Oliver Perez, a pitcher who really was as bad as people made him out to be), he posted a 3.16 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in his nearly four-year career in orange and blue.  Let's put his Mets career in perspective. 

Only ten pitchers in Mets history had a lower ERA than Saberhagen's 3.16 mark.  Bret Saberhagen's winning percentage as a Met was .580.  The only pitchers in team history who topped that are Dwight Gooden (.649), Rick Reed (.621), Johan Santana (.615), Tom Seaver (.615), David Cone (.614), Ron Darling (.586), Al Leiter (.586) and Pedro Martinez (.582).  And about that WHIP.  The only Met with a better career WHIP than Bret Saberhagen is Tom Seaver, and you need to go to a third decimal point to determine that Seaver's 1.076 WHIP was only slightly better than Saberhagen's 1.079 WHIP.

For all the talk about how Bret Saberhagen underachieved, he really didn't.  Although he wasn't as healthy as he could have been, when he was on the mound, he was one of the best pitchers to ever put on a Mets uniform.  Unfortunately, his career on the field in New York was overshadowed by his mischief off the field.  But once you look past his off-field behavior, you'd see that Bret Saberhagen was really a special pitcher for the Mets.

To New York sports fans, 1994 was memorable because of the Rangers winning the Stanley Cup and the Knicks making it to the seventh game of the NBA Finals.  But for Mets fans, 1994 was the year Bret Saberhagen quietly put up one of the best seasons in team history, even if the season was cut short by the players' strike.  The Mets haven't had a player win more than 17 games in a season since Frank Viola and Dwight Gooden accomplished the feat in 1990.  Just imagine what Bret Saberhagen could have done had it not been for the strike.

Although he was technically a one-season wonder in New York, Bret Saberhagen's career as a Met was not too shabby.  But because his tenure in New York coincided with some of the worst seasons in recent history, his accomplishments on the field have been largely forgotten.  They shouldn't be.  Bret Saberhagen was pretty darn good.  No amount of bleach will ever erase that.

Note: One Season Wonders is a thirteen-part weekly series spotlighting those Mets who had one and only one memorable season in New York.  For previous installments, please click on the players' names below:
January 2, 2012: Bernard Gilkey
January 9, 2012: Terry Leach 
January 16, 2012: George Stone
January 23, 2012: Roger Cedeño
January 30, 2012: Frank Viola
February 6, 2012: Joe Christopher 
February 13, 2012: Dave Magadan 
February 20, 2012: Pedro Martinez

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Joey's Post-Game: The Tejada/Collins Summit

Ruben Tejada showed up to camp yesterday on time, but on time wasn't good enough for manager Terry Collins, who expressed disappointment and called for a meeting with the new Mets shortstop this morning.

I'm Studious Metsimus roving reporter Joey Beartran and here is my report and commentary on the Ruben Tejada/Terry Collins Summit.

According to Adam Rubin, Tejada wanted to show up to camp early, as his manager wanted, but had problems obtaining his visa from the Panamanian embassy, which was closed for a few days.  Perhaps the embassy employees had to report to their own manager early or had to close the shop to play a hockey game on the roof.  Regardless, Tejada should have not left his visa issue to the last minute, especially since it was important to his manager for him to arrive early.

This wasn't the only time that Tejada didn't do what his manager asked him to do, as Collins wanted his shortstop to spend a chunk of the winter at the Mets' complex in Florida.  Collins was hoping for Tejada to work with his strength coach and to familiarize himself with Daniel Murphy, who will be his double play partner in 2012.

To this, Tejada responded that he already worked with Murphy as a double play partner in 2010, albeit for a brief 20-game stretch, when both players were members of the AAA-Buffalo Bisons.  As for getting stronger, Tejada said that he used his own personal trainer in Panama, and that he is now feeling "a little bit stronger".

This reporter would like to remind you that Ruben Tejada hit no home runs in 328 at-bats in 2011, and has one home run in 544 career at-bats in the major leagues.  His .314 lifetime slugging percentage is just slightly higher than former Met shortstops Rey Ordoñez (.310) and Rafael Santana (.307).  Therefore, if Tejada hits an inside-the-park homer in 2012, he will have surpassed his 2011 home run output and doubled his lifetime total.  He'll have to be a little more specific when he says he got "a little bit stronger".

For all we know, his quote could mean that he expects to elevate his power from Rey Ordoñez levels to Felix Millan levels.  (For those not in the know, Millan slugged .337 in five years as a Met from 1973 to 1977.  He did this by "blasting" eight home runs in 2,677 at-bats in New York.)  Who needs Terry Collins' strength coach when Tejada's own personal coach can give him one-in-a-Millan power?

That fearsome stance.  The way he holds his bat.  Nothing screams power more than Felix Millan.

Ruben Tejada is only 22 years old.  He was born on the same day Jonathon Niese and his original nose were celebrating their third birthday.  He has a lot to learn about what it takes to be in the major leagues.  Not all of that learning takes place on the field.  Some of it has to do with taking instructions from your manager.  Ruben Tejada failed his manager twice by not showing up to camp early and by not working with his double-play partner and the team's strength coach in Florida.

Tejada is not Jose Reyes, nor should anyone expect him to be.  But he is a major league baseball player, and major league baseball players are supposed to conduct themselves a little better than Tejada is right now.  Ruben Tejada might be feeling "a little bit stronger" now.  What he should also be doing is feeling "a little bit wiser".  He'll have to work on that as well if he wants to be an accepted part of Terry Collins' team.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Lucas Duda Aims To End The RF Rotation For The Mets

From 1983 to 1990, Darryl Strawberry was a staple for the Mets in right field.  In fact, for seven consecutive years (1984-90), no other rightfielder appeared on the Opening Day lineup card but the Straw Man.  But my, how things have changed over the past 22 seasons.

If Lucas Duda is given the start on Opening Day in right field - and from all indications, it appears as if this will be the case - he will become the 15th different Opening Day rightfielder for the Mets since Darryl's Dodger defection following the 1990 season.  In fact, since Strawberry's last Opening Day assignment for the Mets, no rightfielder has gotten more than two consecutive Opening Day starts.

Let's look at the list of players whose names were listed next to position No. 9 on the Opening Day lineup cards for the Mets over the past 22 seasons.  (For argument's sake, I'm including Lucas Duda as the 2012 Opening Day rightfielder.)

  • 1991: Hubie Brooks
  • 1992: Bobby Bonilla
  • 1993: Bobby Bonilla
  • 1994: Jeromy Burnitz
  • 1995: Carl Everett
  • 1996: Butch Huskey
  • 1997: Carl Everett
  • 1998: Butch Huskey
  • 1999: Bobby Bonilla
  • 2000: Derek Bell
  • 2001: Darryl Hamilton
  • 2002: Jeromy Burnitz
  • 2003: Jeromy Burnitz
  • 2004: Karim Garcia
  • 2005: Eric Valent
  • 2006: Xavier Nady
  • 2007: Shawn Green
  • 2008: Ryan Church
  • 2009: Ryan Church
  • 2010: Jeff Francoeur
  • 2011: Carlos Beltran
  • 2012: Lucas Duda 

Lucas Duda has to do plenty of this to get more Opening Day starts in right field for the Mets.

Only two rightfielders have gotten as many as three Opening Day starts since the departure of Strawberry (Bonilla, Burnitz) and both of them needed to be re-acquired by the Mets to earn that distinction.  The only other players to get the Opening Day nod in right field on more than one occasion over the past 22 seasons are Carl Everett (1995, 1997), Butch Huskey (1996, 1998) and Ryan Church (2008, 2009).

If 15 different Opening Day rightfielders in 22 seasons seems like a lot to you, that's nothing compared to the list of rightfielders who were the most common starters at the position over the past two-plus decades for the Mets.  Let's peruse that list as well, along with the players who played the second-most games at the position in those campaigns.

  • 1991: Hubie Brooks (97 starts), Howard Johnson (30 starts)
  • 1992: Bobby Bonilla (121 starts), Dave Gallagher (16 starts)
  • 1993: Bobby Bonilla (83 starts), Jeromy Burnitz (54 starts)
  • 1994: Joe Orsulak (48 starts), Jeromy Burnitz (41 starts)
  • 1995: Carl Everett (67 starts), Ryan Thompson (31 starts)
  • 1996: Alex Ochoa (72 starts), Butch Huskey (40 starts)
  • 1997: Butch Huskey (68 starts), Alex Ochoa (51 starts)
  • 1998: Butch Huskey (94 starts), Lenny Harris (27 starts)
  • 1999: Roger Cedeño (89 starts), Benny Agbayani (39 starts)
  • 2000: Derek Bell (136 starts), Darryl Hamilton (7 starts)
  • 2001: Matt Lawton (46 starts), Timo Perez (44 starts)
  • 2002: Jeromy Burnitz (131 starts), Joe McEwing (15 starts)
  • 2003: Roger Cedeño (100 starts), Jeromy Burnitz (36 starts)
  • 2004: Richard Hidalgo (81 starts), Karim Garcia (44 starts)
  • 2005: Victor Diaz (74 starts), Mike Cameron (67 starts)
  • 2006: Xavier Nady (70 starts), Endy Chavez (32 starts)
  • 2007: Shawn Green (107 starts), Lastings Milledge (25 starts)
  • 2008: Ryan Church (81 starts), Endy Chavez (41 starts)
  • 2009: Jeff Francoeur (74 starts), Ryan Church (52 starts)
  • 2010: Jeff Francoeur (109 starts), Angel Pagan (29 starts)
  • 2011: Carlos Beltran (91 starts), Lucas Duda (38 starts)

Over the past 21 seasons, a whopping 17 different players have owned the team lead in games started at the right field position in an individual season.  Let's delve into this information a bit more.

Only Bobby Bonilla (1992, 1993), Butch Huskey (1997, 1998), Roger Cedeño (1999, 2003) and Jeff Francoeur (2009, 2010) have led the team in right field starts in more than one season.  No player has been the team leader in this category more than twice since Darryl Strawberry's departure.

Since 1990, only Bobby Bonilla (1992), Derek Bell (2000), Jeromy Burnitz (2002), Shawn Green (2007) and Jeff Francoeur (2010) have started in over 100 games in any one season in right field.  For three of those five players (Bell, Green, Francoeur), those seasons were their only full seasons as Mets.

And once the 21st century began, the merry-go-round in right really took off, as ten different players in the ten seasons from 2000 to 2009 led the team in right field starts.  Jeff Francoeur (2009, 2010) was the first player since Butch Huskey (1997, 1998) to lead the team in right field starts in consecutive seasons.

The backup rightfielder for the Mets has gotten plenty of action since 1990.  In fact, there have been only three seasons since Darryl Strawberry's departure in which only one player received more than 25 starts in right.

In 1992, Dave Gallagher was second on the team in right field starts with 16.  Eight years later, Darryl Hamilton started seven games in right field in place of Derek Bell, the man who started the most games in right field in any one season since 1990.  Finally in 2002, Joe McEwing was second on the Mets with 15 right field starts.  Over the past decade, there has been at least one backup rightfielder in each season to make at least 25 starts at the position.

There was a time when third base was considered to be the musical chairs position on the Mets.  Since Darryl Strawberry left as a free agent following the 1990 campaign, right field has taken over for the hot corner as the position where the vacancy sign is always flashing.

In 2012, Lucas Duda will attempt to make the position his own after getting a 38-game trial run in 2011.  As of now, there is no one waiting in the wings should Duda fail to produce on the field.  Could this finally be the end of the right field rotation that has plagued the Mets since 1990?  Or will a player who's not even on the team right now end up replacing Duda in right before season's end?  (The latter scenario has not been uncommon for the Mets, as Matt Lawton (2001), Richard Hidalgo (2004) and Jeff Francoeur (2009) all began the seasons in which they led the Mets in right field starts on other teams.)

After a strong finish to the 2011 season, more production will be expected from Lucas Duda coming into 2012.  But the one thing the Mets should be expecting from Duda is stability in right field.  It's been a long time since the position was filled for more than two seasons.  Hopefully, Duda will produce in a way that will finally allow the Mets to put up the "no vacancy" sign that has been collecting dust for over two decades.

Friday, February 24, 2012

For The Mets, The Big Three-Oh Is The Big Oh-No!

When David Wright takes the field on Opening Day, he will begin his ninth season as a Met.  At age 29, Wright is the veteran of the team, having been with the Mets since July 2004.  The Mets' third baseman is also entering the final year of his six-year, $55 million contract, meaning that there is no guarantee that Wright will still be a Met at age 30.

That got me wondering.  Do you know which player was the last homegrown Met to still be playing for the team on his 30th birthday?  I do, but I'm not going to share the answer just yet.  I have to look at some other teams first.

Over the past decade, every team in baseball has had at least one player who was originally drafted and/or signed by that team, came up through their minor league system and was on that team's payroll until after he turned the big three-oh.  Let's run down the teams alphabetically, along with that team's last homegrown player who blew out thirty candles without ever knowing another professional franchise.

  • Arizona Diamondbacks: Brandon Webb - drafted in 2000, was with the team until 2010 (age 31).
  • Atlanta Braves: Chipper Jones - drafted in 1990, is still with the team (age 39).
  • Baltimore Orioles: Brian Roberts - drafted in 1999, is still with the team (age 34).
  • Boston Red Sox: Jonathan Papelbon - drafted in 2003, was with the team until 2011 (age 30).
  • Chicago Cubs: Carlos Zambrano - signed in 1997, was with the team until 2011 (age 30).
  • Chicago White Sox: Mark Buehrle - drafted in 1998, was with the team until 2011 (age 32).
  • Cincinnati Reds: Ryan Hanigan - signed in 2002, is still with the team (age 31).
  • Cleveland Indians: Victor Martinez - signed in 1996, was with the team until 2009 (age 30).
  • Colorado Rockies: Todd Helton - drafted in 1995, is still with the team (age 38).
  • Detroit Tigers: Brandon Inge - drafted in 1998, is still with the team (age 34).
  • Florida Marlins: Luis Castillo - signed in 1992, was with the team until 2005 (age 30).
  • Houston Astros: Lance Berkman - drafted in 1997, was with the team until 2010 (age 34).
  • Kansas City Royals: David DeJesus - drafted in 2000, was with the team until 2010 (age 30).
  • Los Angeles Angels: Reggie Willits - drafted in 2003, was with the team until 2011 (age 30).
  • Los Angeles Dodgers: Hong-Chih Kuo - signed in 1999, was with the team until 2011 (age 30).
  • Milwaukee Brewers: Ben Sheets - drafted in 1999, was with the team until 2008 (age 30).
  • Minnesota Twins: Justin Morneau - drafted in 1999, is still with the team (age 30).
  • New York Yankees: Mariano Rivera - signed in 1990, is still with the team (age 42).
  • Oakland Athletics: Eric Chavez - drafted in 1996, was with the team until 2010 (age 32).
  • Philadelphia Phillies: Jimmy Rollins - drafted in 1996, is still with the team (age 33).
  • Pittsburgh Pirates: Ryan Doumit - drafted in 1999, was with the team until 2011 (age 30).
  • San Diego Padres: Tony Gwynn - drafted in 1981, was with the team until 2001 (age 41).
  • San Francisco Giants: Pedro Feliz - signed in 1994, was with the team until 2007 (age 32).
  • Seattle Mariners: Willie Bloomquist - drafted in 1999, was with the team until 2008 (age 30).
  • St. Louis Cardinals: Skip Schumaker - drafted in 2001, is still with the team (age 32).
  • Tampa Bay Rays: James Shields - drafted in 2000, is still with the team (age 30).
  • Texas Rangers: C.J. Wilson - drafted in 2001, was with the team until 2011 (age 30).
  • Toronto Blue Jays: Casey Janssen - drafted in 2004, is still with the team (age 30).
  • Washington Nationals: Brian Schneider - drafted in 1995, was with the team until 2007 (age 30).

As you can see, every team in the majors has had a homegrown player stay with the team until his 30th birthday (and in some cases, well after his 30th birthday) in the 21st century.  In addition, there are three players about to turn 30 who are still employed by the team that originally drafted them.

Corey Hart (drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2000) will turn 30 on March 24.  Brian Wilson (drafted by the San Francisco Giants in 2003) will beat Hart to the punch by eight days, as the Giants' closer turns 30 on March 16.  If Tim Stauffer (drafted by the San Diego Padres in 2003) is still a Friar on June 2, he will replace Tony Gwynn as the most recent homegrown Padres player to still be with the team at age 30.

Should Stauffer replace Gwynn on this list in June, that would leave the Florida/Miami Marlins as the only team to not have a homegrown player make it to age 30 in the past five years.  Actually, that's not entirely accurate.  There's one team that hasn't had a homegrown 30-year-old since before Luis Castillo was the last Marlin to accomplish the feat.  Of course, I'm talking about the New York Mets.

In 1993, Vance Wilson was drafted by the Mets in the 44th round of the amateur draft.  He made his major league debut six years later and remained with the team until 2004, playing his final game for the Mets at the age of 31.  As unlikely as it would seem, Vance Wilson was the last homegrown Met to still be with the team on his 30th birthday.

Vance Wilson (shown here as a 31-year-old in 2004) not only tagged opposing baserunners, but he also tagged the title of last homegrown Met to stay with the team into his thirties.

If David Wright is still a Met in 2013, he will be the first Met in almost a decade to be drafted by the team and remain with the club until he turned 30.  In recent years, the Mets have had a number of veteran players on the team.  Unfortunately, those veterans have been the products of other organizations.  The Mets haven't produced many successful major leaguers over the past ten seasons, and when they have, they've either traded them away or allowed them to leave via free agency.

On June 2, San Diego's Tim Stauffer will turn 30 years old.  By then, he could be the third new member of the homegrown age 30 club, joining Milwaukee's Corey Hart and San Francisco's Brian Wilson.  If David Wright doesn't join this club in December when he turns 30, it could be a long time before the Mets produce another homegrown player to stay with the team until his 30th birthday.  (Mike Pelfrey won't turn 30 until 2014.  He'll probably be mentioned in 30 trade rumors before then.)

Jose Reyes played his final game for the Mets before the age of 30.  So did Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry.  Some people look forward to turning 30.  For players originally drafted by the Mets, it's something they can look forward to doing in another team's uniform.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

DJ Joey B Presents: A Charlie Samuels Top Ten List

What's up, everyone?  Welcome to the party!  And why exactly are we throwing this party?  I'll tell you why!   This is the 500th Studious Metsimus post!  So throw your hands up in the air and wave them around as if you had no concerns!

For those of you who just crashed the party, allow me to introduce myself.  My handle is DJ Joey B and I'm here to put my spin on things.  Today, I have a special 500th post countdown for you.  If you've been listening to your Mets-related news this week, you might have an idea where this countdown is going.

Yesterday, former Mets' clubhouse manager Charlie Samuels pleaded guilty to the Queens Supreme Court, admitting that he made off with over $2 million worth of team memorabilia.  Samuels will be spared having to take a walk down the blue and orange mile, as he will not have to serve jail time for his crime.  However, as part of his punishment, he will be placed on five years probation.  He will also have to pay a total of $59,000 to the Mets, the city and the state, as well as return his collection of autographed items.  Furthermore, he has been banned for life from Citi Field, joining the tens of thousands of fans who have already decided to do the same thing.

In honor (or dishonor, in this case) of yesterday's verdict, I'd like to count down the top ten items Charlie Samuels would have sold if he was still into that "betraying trust/greed is good" thing.  This top ten pretty much spans every era in Mets history, proving that Samuels was an equal opportunity leech.

So get out your leisure suit and put on those boogie shoes.  I'm not just saying that because Charlie Samuels will try to swipe them to list them on eBay.  I'm saying it because we're ready to count things down!

Top 10 Things Charlie Samuels Would Have Sold... (...if it wasn't kinda sorta illegal for him to do)

10. Casey Stengel decoder ring

Have you ever watched old footage of Casey Stengel?  The "Old Perfessor" proved to be one of the best multi-taskers in club history, as he served as both team manager and team butcher (of the English language).  Therefore, it should come as no surprise that a Casey Stengel decoder ring would fetch quite a haul if it were to be sold.  Fans of the original Mets would scoop it up faster than you can say "Metsie, Metsie, Metsie."

9. Signed contract where M. Donald Grant sold his soul to the devil

In 2004, Cubs fans blew up the Steve Bartman ball in an attempt to change their fortunes.  Mets fans should follow suit by burning the contract signed by M. Donald Grant in which he sold his soul to Beelzebub.  The highest bidder for the parchment would get the opportunity to do just that in the hopes that erasing the name of the man who traded away Tom Seaver and was lurking behind the scenes in the Nolan Ryan deal would finally allow the Mets to record their first no-hitter (both Ryan and Seaver accomplished the feat after leaving New York) and their next Hall of Famer (Seaver is the lone player in Cooperstown wearing a Mets cap on his plaque).

8. Lee Mazzilli's game-used pants (circa 1979)

What woman in the late '70s didn't want to be in Lee Mazzilli's pants?  Unfortunately, those pants were tighter than Fred Wilpon's wallet, making it impossible for anyone other than Maz to fit in them.  Therefore, those pants would go to the woman (or man) with the highest bid.  It goes without saying that the pants would look lovely alongside that person's collection of Scott Baio posters and Leif Garrett albums.

7. Nino Espinosa's afro

Do you remember Nino Espinosa's afro?  Charlie Samuels sure did.  Trying to cash in on the latest craze of televising ballplayers' haircuts, Nino's noggin would be shaved in a televised special, with the Brillo Pad locks being sold to the fan with the deepest pockets and the weirdest fetish in recorded history.

6. Doug Sisk pitching video (on Beta)

Here's a little known fact.  Before Tom Emanski became a household name for his defensive drill videos, Doug Sisk tried to do the same with his pitching video.  Two things got in the way of this becoming a must-have video for all baseball fans.  First, although it was recorded in 1984 (when Sisk was still good), it wasn't released until the spring of 1985 (when Sisk was anything but good).  Second, it was only released on Betamax, not VHS.  As such, it has become a rare item that would net a pretty penny and would make a fine addition to anyone's collection.  (Act now and as a bonus, you'll receive the George Foster-helmed masterpiece, "Get Metsmerized", on vinyl or 8-track.)

5. Bret Saberhagen Clorox commercial

It might only be 30 seconds long, but it's half a minute of heaven.  Bret Saberhagen, who once had a squeaky clean image, was spotted doing a squeaky clean ad for Clorox Bleach soon after signing with the Mets in 1992.  Although bleach became synonymous with Saberhagen later on in his Mets career for other reasons, owning this 30-second video (which we're happy to say is NOT on Beta) will brighten anyone's day.

4. Copy of "The Worst Team Money Could Buy" w/special autograph

It's common knowledge that a book signed by its author will be more valuable than a John Hancock-less book.  But what about a book signed by one of its "characters"?  In what was sure to be a true collector's item, Charlie Samuels was looking to part with a special copy of "The Worst Team Money Could Buy", signed by Bobby Bonilla in Bob Klapisch's blood.  No tour guide should be caught dead without one.

3. Moises Alou's unused toilet paper

Prior to becoming a Met in 2007, Moises Alou admitted that he would pee on his hands to toughen his skin.  Therefore, although his pantry was full of toilet paper, he never had any use for it, choosing to use his "handy wipes" instead.  Unlike other players' memorabilia, Alou gave Samuels full permission to squeeze his Charmin from his pantry.  Samuels added a little color to the unused TP to make it a must-have for any Mets fan, especially the flatulent ones.

2. Jonathon Niese's old nose

After Jonathon Niese took plastic surgery advice from a now-former Met who has a big mole on his face, the lefty's old nose became a hot collector's item.  From Joan Rivers to Toucan Sam, celebrities from New York to Sollywood have inquired about the availability of Niese's old schnoz.  Charlie Samuels was expecting this (which is why he asked that former Met to subtly "suggest" rhinoplasty to Niese) so he could reap the benefits from selling Niese's old honker.

...and the No. 1 piece of memorabilia Charlie Samuels would have sold if it wasn't just a little bit illegal right now is...

1.  Fred Wilpon's Sandy Koufax souvenir cup

It's not a surprise that Fred Wilpon has many collectibles of his high school sweetheart.  His closet is full of Sandy Koufax Brooklyn Dodger jerseys and his night stand and medicine cabinet have their share of Sandy Koufax souvenir cups.  Although Samuels was not able to say whether or not the items were game used, he was certain the only place they were found were in Papa Smirk's night stand and medicine cabinet, right next to his collection of Sandy Koufax Kleenex boxes.

Monday, February 20, 2012

One Season Wonders: Pedro Martinez

In 2004, the Mets finished below .500 for the third consecutive season.  Attendance at Shea Stadium, which had averaged 2.7 million from 1999-2002, had plummeted to an average of 2.2 million in 2003 and 2004.  With the Yankees winning six American League pennants and four World Series championships in less than a decade, baseball fans in New York were not exactly lining up to buy tickets to see the Mets.

The Mets needed to make a change for the better and they needed to do it fast if they wanted to remain relevant in their own city.  To effect this change, Mets' owner Fred Wilpon gave full autonomy to new general manager Omar Minaya.  It was up to the Queens-raised Minaya to turn the Mets into kings of the National League East.  Realizing he had just gotten the keys to the castle, Minaya wasted no time in his efforts to make the Mets matter again.

First, he hired Willie Randolph to take over for the dismissed Art Howe.  Then came the hard part.  In Randolph, the Mets had a leader in the dugout.  But they needed a leader on the field.  Jose Reyes and David Wright were still soiling their baseball diapers at the time, so they were not viable candidates.  Instead, Omar Minaya set his sights on one player.  He was looking for a respected veteran presence on the team who could also serve as their Pied Piper, leading other talent out of their cities and into Shea Stadium.

Just before the Winter Meetings, Minaya boarded a plane for the Dominican Republic, spending his Thanksgiving in Santo Domingo.  Soon after, Mets fans were the ones giving thanks.

With Pedro Martinez on board, the Mets were hoping to hitch a ride to first place.

Less than three weeks after spending his Thanksgiving in the Dominican Republic, Omar Minaya gave Mets fans an early Christmas gift, signing Pedro Martinez to a four-year, $53 million deal.  Martinez, who had just led the Boston Red Sox to their first World Series championship in 86 years, would immediately give the Mets credibility, as well as a reason for other free agents to come to New York.

Martinez spent seven years in Boston, dominating opposing batters in a way not seen since the days of Sandy Koufax.  From 1998-2004, Martinez went 117-37 with a 2.52 ERA.  He also averaged 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings, leading the league in whiffs in four of his seven seasons with the Red Sox.  Despite his dominance, the Red Sox did not want to guarantee a fourth year to Pedro due to his injury history.  The Mets were not as timid.

With a bonafide ace to lead the pitching staff, the Mets expected the 2005 season to be different than their previous three campaigns.  But things didn't start off so well for Martinez in his first Opening Day assignment for the Mets, as Cincinnati's Adam Dunn hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the first inning to give the Reds the early lead.  Dunn's blast might have rattled an ordinary pitcher, but Pedro Martinez was no ordinary pitcher.  In fact, after the home run, the Mets got a taste of vintage Pedro, and what a fine vintage it was.

Martinez struck out nine of the next ten batters he faced, with only a third-inning walk to D'Angelo Jimenez on a 3-2 pitch preventing Pedro from tying Tom Seaver's major league record of ten consecutive strikeouts in one game.  But each strikeout made Martinez's pitch count rise near the triple digit mark.  By the end of the sixth inning, Martinez had fanned a dozen Cincinnati Reds, but had reached 103 pitches.  However, the Mets scored three runs in the seventh inning to take a 6-3 lead on the strength of Carlos Beltran's RBI single off former Met David Weathers (who was pitching in relief of another former Met, Paul Wilson) and Cliff Floyd's two-run homer off Kent Mercker.

With the Mets enjoying a three-run lead at the seventh inning stretch, manager Willie Randolph removed Pedro Martinez from the game, fully expecting his ace to come away with the victory.  But second-year closer Braden Looper blew the save in the ninth inning, allowing back-to-back homers to Adam Dunn and Joe Randa, with the latter blast coming in walk-off fashion.

Braden Looper had nowhere to hide after costing Pedro Martinez his first win as a Met.

Pedro Martinez was credited with a no-decision in his Opening Day start, a common occurrence throughout his first month and a half as a Met.  Over his first nine starts in 2005, Martinez was credited with four no-decisions, despite not allowing more than five hits in any of them.  Through May 22, Martinez was holding opposing hitters to a microscopic .155 batting average, but only had four wins to show for it.  That all changed in Pedro's next start.

On May 27, the Mets were once again hitting the snooze button instead of the baseball.  Brian Moehler started for the Florida Marlins against Pedro and the Mets that day.  This is the same Brian Moehler who was pitching for his fourth team in four years and had only won three games in the major leagues during his time as a baseball nomad.  Yet despite his recent lack of success, Moehler retired the first 11 batters he faced before allowing back-to-back doubles to Mike Cameron and Cliff Floyd.  Moehler then proceeded to retire 13 of the next 15 batters after the Mets had taken their 1-0 lead.  Faced with the daunting task of having to put up zeroes against the Marlins, Martinez accepted the challenge and put his teammates on his back, pitching eight shutout innings while striking out ten and walking no one.  This time, Braden Looper held the lead for Pedro and the Mets came away with a 1-0 victory.

Pedro's performance against the Marlins began a stretch in which he earned eight victories in 11 starts.  From May 27 to July 23, Martinez went 8-2 with a 2.51 ERA, striking out 74 batters and walking only 14.  During this two-month period, Martinez was selected for the National League All-Star team.  However, he did not play in the Midsummer Classic because he had pitched seven strong innings for the Mets in the last game before the break, a 6-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

After July 23, the combination of poor relief work and a sputtering offense contributed to another stretch where wins were scarce for Pedro Martinez.  In an eight-start stretch from late July to early September, Martinez held opposing batters to a .226 batting average and .283 on-base percentage.  He also allowed three runs or less in six of the eight starts, but was the winning pitcher in only one of those starts.  During that eight-start period, one game stood out in particular.  It was a game in which Pedro was on teetering on the edge of Mets' immortality, only to fall off with one swing of the bat.

On August 14, the Mets were playing the Dodgers in the rubber game of a three-game series.  Only three days earlier, Carlos Beltran and Mike Cameron were involved in a horrific outfield collision at Petco Park, ending Cameron's season and taking Beltran out of action for a week.  As a result, Gerald Williams was starting for Beltran in center field for Pedro's start at Dodger Stadium.  This would come into play late in the game.

The Mets broke a scoreless tie in the fifth inning on an RBI double by Williams.  Meanwhile, Pedro Martinez was nearly perfect, allowing a first-inning walk to Milton Bradley before retiring the next 20 batters to face him.  Up came Antonio Perez, who had amassed 97 career hits in three major league seasons prior to his eighth inning at-bat against Pedro.  Three pitches later, that total had gone up to 98.

On a 1-1 count, Perez drilled a triple to deep center.  It was the first hit for the Dodgers and the only hit Perez would ever record off Martinez.  The ball might have been catchable, but with Gerald Williams playing center instead of Carlos Beltran, it became an easy triple for Perez.  Interestingly enough, almost five years to the day before Williams failed to catch Perez's fly ball, he was involved in an on-field altercation with Pedro Martinez.

Did Gerald Williams remember this moment when he was "chasing" after Antonio Perez's fly ball?

Martinez, then with the Red Sox, hit Gerald Williams with a pitch in the first inning, causing him to charge the mound.  Williams and several of his Devil Ray teammates were ejected from the game, a game in which Pedro threw (you guessed it) a one-hit shutout.  Five years later, Gerald Williams was once again instrumental in a Pedro Martinez-pitched game that had become a one-hit shutout.  Unfortunately, the game would not end that way.  One batter after the no-hitter was gone, the shutout and the lead were also no more, as Jayson Werth (yes, THAT Jayson Werth) hit a two-run homer off Martinez to give the Dodgers a 2-1 lead.  The Mets, despite outhitting the Dodgers, 10-2, lost the game and the series, with Pedro Martinez picking up the hard-luck loss.

After the disappointing loss to the Dodgers, Martinez did not give up a run in each of his next two starts.  But just like in his Opening Day start, the bullpen failed to help Pedro get a win.  On August 20, Martinez left his start against the Washington Nationals with a seemingly insurmountable 8-0 lead.  But the bullpen coughed up the lead, allowing the Nats to tie the game at 8.  The Mets eventually won the game in extra innings, but Pedro once again failed to get a win.  He did get the win in his next start, throwing six shutout innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks.  But in his final August start, Martinez had one of his few poor performances of the 2005 season.

On August 31, Pedro Martinez took the hill against the Phillies with a chance to pitch the Mets into the wild card lead.  Just one night before, the Mets had pulled to within half a game of the wild card on a late home run by Ramon Castro.  But with the Mets holding on to a slim 2-1 lead in the fifth inning, it wasn't the bullpen that cost Pedro the win.  It was Pedro himself, as the Phillies took the right-hander deep four times en route to an 8-2 victory at Shea Stadium.

Although the Mets failed to make a run at the wild card in September, Pedro Martinez continued to chug along.  After allowing four home runs to the Phillies in his final August start, Martinez did not allow a single home run in the month of September, recording a 2.25 ERA during the season's final month, a month that featured a complete-game, ten-strikeout gem against the division champion Braves on September 16 for his 15th and final win of the season.

Pedro Martinez helped bring other winners to New York, but had difficulty getting wins of his own.

The Mets finished the 2005 season with an 83-79 record, a 12-win improvement over their 2004 campaign.  Pedro Martinez's first year in New York was an overwhelming success, as the right-hander went 15-8 with a 2.82 ERA and 208 strikeouts.  The following year, Pedro started the season by winning each of his first five starts, giving fans hope that the best was yet to come.  Although the Mets had a memorable season in 2006, this time Pedro Martinez had very little to do with it.  In fact, he had very little to do with anything over the final three years of his four-year deal.

Following his 5-0 start to the 2006 season, Martinez won a total of 12 games for the Mets until his contract expired following the 2008 campaign.  This was mostly due to the ever-present injury bug; the same bug that scared Boston away from offering him a fourth year.  Because of this bug, Pedro was not able to pitch for the Mets in the 2006 playoffs, as well as most of the 2007 and 2008 seasons.  His 12-15 record and 5.00 ERA following the first month of the 2006 season was hardly what the Mets expected from the former Cy Young Award winner, and certainly not worthy of the tens of millions of dollars he was being paid by the team.  Upon the completion of the 2008 season, Martinez was not re-signed by the Mets and did not pitch again in the major leagues until the second half of the 2009 season, when the Phillies took a chance on him.  Naturally, Pedro went 5-1 for the defending World Series champions and helped them win a second consecutive National League pennant.

Pedro Martinez came to the Mets in 2005 with a big contract and a history of success in the major leagues.  In his first year in New York, he helped the Mets end a streak of three consecutive losing seasons, giving them hope that better days were still to come.  Although the Mets did win the division title in 2006 and narrowly missed the playoffs in 2007 and 2008, their success was due more to the players that followed Pedro to New York and not Pedro himself.

In 2005, the Mets paid Pedro Martinez $53 million to be a four-year wonder.  Instead, they got a one-year wonder and a total of 17 wins over the remaining three years.  Pedro was supposed to lead the Mets to a World Series title.  Instead, his former team accomplished the feat during the third year of his contract with the Mets.  With most one-season wonders, the Mets would be very happy with what they got.  Unfortunately, with Pedro Martinez, the Mets felt like they were short-changed.  There's nothing wonderful about that.

Note: One Season Wonders is a thirteen-part weekly series spotlighting those Mets who had one and only one memorable season in New York.  For previous installments, please click on the players' names below:
January 2, 2012: Bernard Gilkey
January 9, 2012: Terry Leach 
January 16, 2012: George Stone
January 23, 2012: Roger Cedeño
January 30, 2012: Frank Viola
February 6, 2012: Joe Christopher 
February 13, 2012: Dave Magadan

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Little Jeffy Wilpon Sticks Foot In Mouth ... Again!

In Thursday's Daily News, Wayne Coffey wrote an article about the progress of the reconfigured fences at Citi Field.  In his article, Coffey discussed how various players and front office personnel agree that the new dimensions will make Citi Field a neutral ballpark instead of one that was geared to eat up long fly balls.  One particular member of the front office chimed in at the end of the article with his own thoughts.

Mets’ non-prodigal son, Jeff Wilpon, was on hand to give the first public tour since Citi Field began experiencing shrinkage.  Little Jeffy, no stranger to the hereditary foot-in-mouth condition passed down to him by his father, gave his two cents on why the moved-in walls will make for a better experience for the dozens of fans in attendance at Citi Field this year.  Given the team’s current financial state, perhaps he should have kept those two cents to himself, especially when these were his words:

“I think fans are going to like (the new dimensions).  People would rather see a 9-7 game than a 2-1 game, for one thing.  And I think players are going to perform better, and they’re going to like that, too.”

So let me get this straight.  Little Jeffy Wilpon believes his customers would rather see a 9-7 game at Citi Field.  Now, I’m assuming he wants the Mets to score the nine runs in this scenario, but since he’s a Wilpon, that assumption can’t always be made.  Therefore, he’s saying that fans want to see Mets pitchers give up seven runs in a ballgame.

For most teams, giving up seven runs in a game means taxing the bullpen (been there, done that), while causing the starting pitchers to lose confidence in their ability.  It also leads to demotions and early promotions to minor leaguers who have no business being called up so soon.

Who wants people to say Johan Santana came off the DL too soon because he allowed a handful of runs in five innings?  How much more of Mike Pelfrey getting shelled can we handle?  If R.A. Dickey starts giving up run after run, will we start seeing #BlameMountKilimanjaro hashtags on Sandy Alderson’s tweets?  No one wants any of that to happen.  Well, almost no one.

Little Jeffy Wilpon would have no problem with any of that because he’s in tune with his fan base and knows we want 9-7 games instead of pitchers’ duels.  Right.  He knows us so well.  In fact, we would have invited our good buddy over for dinner by now but we’re afraid he’d take our silverware home.

This is what Little Jeffy should have said if he didn’t want to stick his foot in his mouth:

“People would rather see us score nine runs instead of two.”

(No mention of how many runs the other team will be scoring.  Perhaps it’s a 9-7 game, but it could also be a complete-game 9-0 shutout.  What fan wouldn’t like the best of both worlds?)

“People would rather see 400-foot bombs land behind the fence and not in opponents’ gloves.” 

(He’d get an “Amen” from the blue and orange congregation who are tired of Jason Bay still chasing Richard Hidalgo on the Mets’ all-time home run list.)

“People would stop asking us to sell the team if we won a few more ballgames.” 

(Okay, that has nothing to do with his 9-7 quote, but at least he wouldn’t be sticking his foot in his mouth with that response.)

The fences at Citi Field will be lower and closer to home plate than they’ve been since the park opened in 2009.  Until the season starts, there’s no way of knowing if this will benefit the Mets or their opponents more.  Jeff Wilpon is counting on the cosmetic changes helping the Mets in both the standings and in ticket sales.  In fact, he’s sure his patrons are going to like it.  After all, he knows exactly what we want.

For his sake, Little Jeffy better be right.  His father has already stuck his own foot in his mouth on multiple occasions.  This is one family tradition that doesn’t need to passed down from one generation to the next.  Isn’t that right, Papa Smirk? 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Infinite Love For No. 8

As loyal readers of Studious Metsimus know, we have a tendency to use a plethora of photos in our blog posts.  Occasionally, they become part of the story we're trying to tell instead of merely serving as an embellishment.

Today, we were searching for an image to convey our feelings for Gary Carter, a man whose passing has brought out many tributes from fans, bloggers and media alike.  A simple design captured our attention and spoke volumes about the love we will always feel for the Kid.

We will always love Gary Carter for the man he was and for the Met he was.  Our love and admiration for No. 8 is infinite.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and memories of Gary Carter with us, either as a comment on this site or on the Studious Metsimus Facebook page, which you can access by clicking here.

R.I.P. Gary Carter, No. 8 for ∞.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

There Will Always Be A Kid In All of Us

After a long and sometimes painful battle, Gary Carter passed away today at the age of 57 due to complications from brain cancer.

The man known as “The Kid” became a Met prior to the 1985 season.  He quickly gave Mets fans a taste of what to expect from him on the field, providing a game-winning home run off ex-Met Neil Allen in his first home game at Shea.  Along with Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter provided veteran leadership on a team that had many young stars.  His leadership skills extended beyond the baseball field, and as a result, he was widely respected by his Mets teammates.

The miraculous comeback in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series might never have happened if Gary Carter had not started the rally with a two-out single.  He also provided the game-winning hit in Game 5 of the 1986 NLCS.  Each game could have been the final game at Shea Stadium in 1986 had the Mets not won them.  Instead, the final game at Shea Stadium in that magical year ended with Carter jumping into Jesse Orosco’s arms.

Gary Carter was at the center of many miracles for the Mets.  But in the end, he fell one miracle short.

On Opening Day and throughout their 50th anniversary season, the Mets should remember their former catcher by wearing black armbands with a No. 8 on their uniform sleeves.  They should also invite his family to throw out the ceremonial first pitch when the Mets open the season against the Atlanta Braves on April 5.  Gary Carter was always supportive of his family.  The Mets should do the same.

On this sad day, Mets fans everywhere will be shedding a tear for the Mets’ former co-captain.  However, we can always remember him in our minds and in our hearts.  Instead of crying, I will smile in celebration of Gary Carter’s life and contributions to the Mets.  It’s what The Kid would want.  It’s what The Kid would do. 

Rest in peace, Gary Carter.  No. 8 will always be No. 1 in our hearts.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Joey's Soapbox: Las Vegas Gives The Mets No Respect

Last night, I wrote a special Valentine's Day piece on why I love the Mets.  Apparently, Las Vegas oddsmakers don't feel the same love.  Allow me to explain.

This morning, as I was reading the morning paper in bed (see photo below), I was pawing my way through the sports section when I happened upon America's Line, the section where the point spreads and odds are listed.

In addition to the lines for tonight's games, the 2012 World Series odds were also listed for each team.  Now I'm a realist, so just as I don't expect Jason Bay to become the second consecutive Mets' batting champion or Mike Pelfrey to toss the team's first no-hitter, I also didn't expect the Mets to be near the top of the World Series odds list.

I saw the safe bets on top (Phillies, Yankees, Angels, Rangers) and was surprised to see that six of the top seven teams called the American League home, despite the fact that the NL has won four of the last six Fall Classics.  But the one thing I didn't see was the Mets.

I finally did find them, but not until I saw the names of the 23 teams ahead of them.

That's right.  That bold-faced name you see near the bottom of the list is our beloved team.  Now the thing that upsets me is not that at 80-1 odds, the Mets rank 24th out of 30 teams.  It's far more than that.

First, the only National League teams with longer odds than the Mets to win the World Series are the Pittsburgh Pirates, San Diego Padres and Houston Astros.  The Pirates hold the all-time record in sports for most consecutive losing seasons, with 19.  The Padres have finished higher than third place in the NL West only seven times in their 43 years of existence.  And the Astros are coming off their worst season (56-106) in franchise history.

Second, the other teams in the NL East not only have more favorable odds to win the World Series, they're far more favorable.  The Phillies (4-1 odds) are no surprise here.  The Braves (20-1 odds) came within one choke job of repeating as wild card winners in 2011.  The Marlins (also 20-1) apparently still had money left over after fattening the wallets of Jose Reyes, Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle, giving some of it to the Las Vegas oddsmakers to "earn" their high ranking.  And the Washington Nationals, a team that is still seeking its first winning season since saying au revoir to Montreal, is at 25-1.  Somewhere in the next time zone, you'll find the Mets at 80-1.  No respect.

But if you think the Washington Nationals ranking so much higher than the Mets is the ultimate lack of respect, you've got another "think" coming.

The Kansas City Royals, whose sole finish above third place over the past 22 seasons came in 1995, when they finished four games UNDER .500, rank higher the Mets.  But the one team that caught my eye is ranked even higher than the Royals.  That team is the Chicago Cubs.  The same Chicago Cubs team that hasn't won a World Series since 1908, the year Jamie Moyer was just getting the courage to ask his sweetheart to the prom.  At 35-1 odds, the oddsmakers believe the Cubs are more than twice as likely to win the World Series than the Mets.

The Mets haven't won the World Series since 1986, the same year a film called Back To School was released.  Perhaps you might remember it.  It starred an actor/comedian who knew a thing or two about not getting any respect.

 I respect a man who proudly wears the Mets' racing pinstripes.

Rodney Dangerfield made a living on not getting respect.  Now it looks as if the Mets are following in his footsteps.  In Back To School, Dangerfield's character comforted his son, who had just told him about his C average, by saying "A, B, C, you're in the top three, what's the difference?"

For the Mets, there is a difference.  They can forget about the top three.  They're not even in the top TWENTY-three, as far as World Series odds are concerned.

As everyone knows, the games are played on the field, not on paper.  It's too bad my paper felt the need to play a game with me.  I'm telling you, the Mets just get no respect.  Even Rodney Dangerfield would feel sorry for us.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Joey's Soapbox (of Chocolates): My Mets Valentine

Greetings, everyone!  This is Joey Beartran.  How has everyone been celebrating their Valentine's Day?  As you can see, I got a heart-shaped box of Mets chocolates today, which got me thinking.  What is it that I love the most about the Mets?  And why is it so great to be a Mets fan?

I hope you're ready, because I'm about to get on my soapbox.  But today will be a little different, as today will be a loving rant on my fav'rit team.

It's not easy being a Mets fan.  Whereas fans of other teams get to root for players like Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton or Justin Verlander, we got to cheer to our heart's content whenever Jason Bay doesn't strike out or Mike Pelfrey holds an opposing batter to a single.  Anyone can root for a superstar when he does what he's supposed to do.  But as Mets fans, we have different things to root for.  And we take pride in doing so.  Except for maybe Cubs fans, who are used to rooting for anything positive, like Alfonso Soriano not tripping over his shoelaces when chasing after a fly ball, we come up with new and exciting things to be happy for.  Try topping that, Derek Jeter fans!

Speaking of Derek Jeter, the team for which he plays for considers it a failure if they don't win the World Series every year.  From 1996-2000, they won four championships, but because they didn't win in 1997, there was a flaw in their dynasty.  A .300 hitter can fail seven out of ten times, but try being a Yankee.  One championship over the past 11 seasons (which is one fewer than the Red Sox and Cardinals have won over the same time period) is considered a major disappointment.  That's something I love about being a Mets fan.  We rarely ever have such lofty expectations.  It's easy to be a frontrunner.  It takes a real fan to root for a team like the Mets.  And when the Mets do capture our hearts with a memorable season, it makes it all the more special.

The Mets have character.  They also have characters.  Over the past 50 seasons, we've seen Choo Choo, Marvelous Marv, the Glider, the Stork, Tugger, Mookie, Doc, the Straw Man, Turk, Jason Phillips' goggles and Don Aase.  Why Don Aase?  Because I like to say Aase.  Can another team claim so many characters?  Methinks not.  Being a Mets fan is always fun, even when the team on the field is not.

Finally, every once in a while, we get to see something truly special.  As Mets fans, we've seen the Miracle of 1969, Ya Gotta Believe, Lee Mazzilli's pants, Hendu Can Do, the Hotfoot, Jesse Orosco's flying glove and the Grand Slam Single.  "Every once in a while" still doesn't include a league MVP or a no-hitter, but hey, if Anthony Young could win a game, then anything is possible.

Today is Valentine's Day.  It's a day people show their love for each other with cards, gifts, etc.  The greatest loves in my life wear orange and blue.  And nothing will ever cause my love for them to waver.  They may break my heart sometimes, they may collapse every once in a while (or twice in a  while, or three times if you count 1998), and they may give Oliver Perez $36 million to suck more than Dracula at a blood bank, but they're my team.  And nothing will ever make that change.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some chocolates that I have to take care of.  Don't forget to tell that special person or team you love exactly how you feel about them.  Even if that person is Mel Rojas.

Happy Valentine's Day to all!  And as always, let's go Mets!!!

Monday, February 13, 2012

One Season Wonders: Dave Magadan

In 1986, the Mets were rolling towards their first division title in 13 years.  Entering September, the Mets' lead in the NL East had increased to 20 games and the inevitable clinching was only days away.  As with any other team, the Mets called up a number of minor leaguers once the rosters expanded on September 1.  One of those players was a lanky first baseman from Tampa who was an excellent contact hitter, even if that contact produced mostly singles.

In four minor league seasons, the first baseman never hit lower than .309 and never had an on-base percentage lower than .411.  But of his 495 base hits, only 104 went for extra bases and a mere four left the ballpark.  Despite his penchant for collecting singles and drawing walks, the Mets didn't call him up to the big leagues until after he had amassed over 1,500 minor league at-bats.  But he made a name for himself quickly once he got his first start.

On September 17, 1986, the Mets were playing before a packed house at Shea Stadium, needing a win to seal the deal on the NL East crown.  However, team leader Keith Hernandez was unable to start because of the flu, so the start was given to the rookie with the singles bat.  Four plate appearances, three hits and two RBIs later, the September call-up took a seat so that Hernandez could take part in the on-field celebration.  Before September 17, no one had heard of the Mets' rookie, but after his performance in the Mets' first division clincher since 1973, everyone knew who Dave Magadan was.

Dave Magadan never met a single he didn't like.

David Joseph Magadan wasn't the only baseball player in his family.  The cousin of Lou Piniella, Magadan played the game much like his famous family member.  Just as Sweet Lou had done before him, Magadan carved out a nice résumé for himself in the minor leagues before getting an opportunity to play in the majors.  (Piniella was drafted in 1962 but did not become a regular in the big leagues until 1969.)  Also like his cousin, Magadan followed in the family tradition of lashing single after single.  (1,257 of Piniella's 1,705 hits went for one base.)  But the one difference in Magadan's game was his ability to draw a walk.  Piniella never walked more than 35 times in any of his 18 years in the big leagues, while Magadan had never walked less than 51 times in any of his four seasons in the Mets' minor league system.  And it was because of that ability that Magadan never returned to the minor leagues as a Met, even with Keith Hernandez still blocking his path to first base.

In 1987, Keith Hernandez was still the Mets' regular first baseman, but with the departure of third baseman Ray Knight, the Mets needed a backup at the hot corner now that Howard Johnson was taking over the position.  Unfortunately for Magadan, HoJo had a breakout season in 1987, so he was mostly relegated to pinch-hitting duties, appearing in only 85 games and collecting 192 at-bats.  But things began to change in 1988 when Hernandez started to show his age at first.

After a letdown in 1987, the Mets were back atop the NL East in 1988, although they were doing it without the help of their co-captains.  Gary Carter went through a prolonged power slump as he was seeking to hit his 300th career home run and Keith Hernandez injured his hamstring twice.  With the Mets needing a replacement at first base, Magadan stepped in, but for the first time in his professional career, failed to hit .300, finishing the year with a .277 batting average in 112 games.  The next year, Hernandez was hurt again and Magadan found himself playing more than he did in 1988.  But for the second straight year, Magadan was not able to maintain a lofty batting average, although it did improve slightly to .286 in 127 games. 

As the '80s turned into the '90s, Dave Magadan had been with the Mets for parts of four seasons.  However, he still had not become an everyday player, with less than 900 at-bats over those four seasons.  He mainly served a pinch-hitter or an injury replacement.  But when the Mets chose not to re-sign Keith Hernandez after the 1989 season, a full-time spot finally opened for Dave Magadan.  He responded with the best season of his career.

After four years in Keith Hernandez's shadow, Dave Magadan set his sights on a career year in 1990.

Dave Magadan appeared to finally have the everyday first baseman's job once Keith Hernandez signed a free-agent contract with the Cleveland Indians in early December 1989.  But two weeks after Hernandez was officially an ex-Met, the team swung a deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers for reliever Alejandro Peña and first baseman Mike Marshall.  Dave Magadan was back on the bench and Mike Marshall was named Keith Hernandez's replacement at first base by manager Davey Johnson.

Marshall, who hit 137 home runs in nine years as a Dodger, was a complete disaster at first base, hitting .226 with four home runs and 20 RBI through May 27.  His performance at the plate mirrored the team's performance on the field, and on that date, the Davey Johnson era came to a close with the firing of the Mets' most successful manager.  Long-time Mets player and coach Buddy Harrelson replaced Johnson as skipper, immediately making the team his own.  After only two weeks on the job, Harrelson took Mike Marshall out of the lineup, replacing him with Dave Magadan.  This time, there was no one in Magadan's way to prevent him from breaking out.  And it all started with a windy day at Wrigley Field.

On June 12, 1990, the Mets were playing the second game of a four-game series at Wrigley Field in Chicago.  At the time, Magadan was hitting .307 in 75 at-bats, with one home run and six runs batted in.  By the time the game was over, those numbers had doubled.  In what became Dave Magadan's breakout week, the first baseman went 4-for-4 with a triple, home run and six RBI.  The next day, Magadan collected four more hits in a doubleheader against the Cubs.  The Mets then traveled to Pittsburgh.  Different venue, same result, as Magadan went 4-for-4 with two doubles, a run scored and an RBI in a 7-5 victory over the first place Pittsburgh Pirates.

In his first seven days as an everyday player, Magadan collected an astounding 18 hits, but what was more amazing was that he was collecting his share of extra-base hits as well.  For the seven-game period, Magadan hit .563 (18-for-32), with three doubles, a triple and a home run.  He also scored eight runs and drove in ten, all with an un-Magadan-like .813 slugging percentage.  By the time the week was over, Magadan was hitting .383, which would have led the league had he collected enough at-bats to qualify.  But with Magadan now firmly entrenched at first base, it wouldn't be long before his name appeared among the league leaders in batting average.

Every once in a while, Dave Magadan put on a glove, but it was his bat that did the talking in 1990.

From June 24 until the end of July, Magadan continued his torrid pace.  In 35 games (33 starts), Magadan hit .336 with 15 extra-base hits (ten doubles, three triples, two home runs), 25 runs scored and 19 RBI.  He also continued to show exceptional discipline at the plate, drawing 18 walks while striking out only 12 times.  By the time July was over, Magadan was officially among the National League's leading hitters, while Mike Marshall was on his way to Boston, traded for minor leaguers Ed Perozo and Greg Hansell (the same Greg Hansell who was the losing pitcher against the Mets in the 162nd game of 1999, the game that sent the Mets to Cincinnati for the one-game playoff to determine the National League wild card berth).

As hot as Magadan was, the Mets were even hotter.  In a two-month stretch from June 4 to August 3, the Mets' record was 40-15.  They had gone from a season-high 9½-game deficit on June 7 to a one-game lead on August 3.  The Mets had become Buddy Harrelson's team, a scrappy bunch that won games in every possible way.  And this feisty attitude had brought them back into division contention, with Dave Magadan leading the way.

On August 24, Dave Magadan was second in the league in batting, hitting .337 to Lenny Dykstra's .341.  Willie McGee was right on their tails with a .336 batting average.  Five days later, a trade was made that would influence the National League batting race when Willie McGee was shipped off to the Oakland A's.  Since McGee was switching leagues, his .335 batting average at the time of the trade would stay frozen and McGee's batting average in the American League would remain separate.  Therefore, regardless of what McGee did in Oakland, his season-ending batting average in the National League was locked in at .335.  At the time of the deal, Dykstra was still leading the league with a .340 batting average, but McGee had passed Magadan into second place, as the Mets' first baseman had dropped to .333.  There was one month to go in the season to see if Magadan was going to become the Mets' first batting champion, but more importantly, the Mets were down to their final month if they wanted to take the division from the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Mets were still leading the division by a half-game on September 3, but a five-game losing streak, which included a three-game sweep at the hands of the Pirates, knocked them 3
½ games back.  Magadan did his best to keep the team afloat, batting .350 with a double, two triples and a home run in the six games he played from September 4 to September 9.  But by then, his teammates had gone into a team-wide slump, and the Mets never took over first place again.  The only thing left to decide was the National League batting race, and one of the participants was also in the midst of a slump.

Lenny Dykstra, who appeared ready to win his first batting title for the Phillies, completely lost it at the plate in the month of September.  On the morning of September 8, Dykstra was still leading the league with a .343 batting average.  Eight days later, he had already fallen behind Willie McGee and his stationary .335 average.  By season's end, Magadan had also passed Dykstra.  The former Met had to settle for a .325 batting average, the result of hitting .213 over his final 20 games.  As cold as Dykstra was, it was a future Met who went on a tear of his own in September.  Eddie Murray, then a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, hit .411 over his final 30 games to insert his name into the batting race.  Murray's blazing finish raised his average to .330 by season's end, just five percentage points behind Willie McGee.  Unfortunately, Murray's average had also surpassed Dave Magadan, who settled for a .328 average and a third-place finish in the National League batting race.

Although Dave Magadan fell short in his quest to become the Mets' first batting champion, his .328 average was still the second-highest batting average ever recorded by a Met who qualified for the batting title (Cleon Jones set the franchise record of .340 in 1969).  However, since Jones was a right-handed batter, Magadan's average was the highest recorded by a left-handed hitter in Mets' history.  (Both Jones' and Magadan's marks were erased by John Olerud in 1998, when the sweet-swinging lefty set the new team standard with a .354 batting average.)

We're not worthy!  We're not worthy!  Such was life in Dave's World.

Dave Magadan's 1990 season was by far the best year of his career.  The first baseman set career highs in batting average (.328), slugging percentage (.457), OPS (.874), hits (148), doubles (28), triples (6), home runs (6), RBI (72) and runs scored (74).  It was also the only time in his career that he received MVP votes, as Magadan earned four votes to finish 22nd in the NL MVP vote.

As quickly as Magadan rose to the top, his star faded quickly.  In 1991, his average plummeted to .258 and in 1992, he played in only 99 games, batting .283 with 12 extra-base hits.  By then, the Mets had already signed Magadan's old batting champion rival, Eddie Murray, to be the team's first baseman, and Magadan was back to splitting his time between first base and third base.  The 1992 season would turn out to be Magadan's last season in New York.

After the 1992 season, Magadan became a journeyman.  Just as Don Zimmer became the first Met to play the hot corner, Dave Magadan became the first Florida Marlins' third baseman, playing the position in the Marlins' inaugural game in 1993.  Magadan's stay in Florida didn't last very long, as he was traded to Seattle in June.  Magadan returned to the Marlins in 1994, followed by stints with the Houston Astros (1995), Chicago Cubs (1996), Oakland A's (1997-98) and San Diego Padres (1999-2001).  Although he played for nine seasons after leaving the Mets, Magadan was never able to duplicate his successful 1990 campaign.  Still, Magadan's longevity made him the only position player from the 1986 team to extend his playing career into the 21st century.  (Pitcher Jesse Orosco hung up his spikes after the 2003 season.)

Dave Magadan was never a great player, but he was still good enough to play 16 seasons for seven different teams.  He was a decent hitter, finishing his career with a .288 batting average and had a great eye at the plate (.390 lifetime on-base percentage).  As a result, Magadan is still in the major leagues, serving as the hitting coach for the San Diego Padres from 2003 to 2006, before joining the Boston Red Sox in the same role in 2007.  Magadan won a World Series ring with the Red Sox 21 years after making his major league debut for another World Series winner.  He is now entering his sixth season as the Red Sox hitting instructor and his first under former Mets manager Bobby Valentine.

After spending four seasons in the minor leagues, Dave Magadan finally got a chance to play in the big show.  He waited four more years to become an everyday player.  It was his patience at the plate that first got him noticed and it was his patience on the bench that allowed him to have one of the most unexpected seasons in Mets history.  The Mets might not have won the division title in 1990, but Dave Magadan proved to be a winner that season.  He's still winning today.

Note: One Season Wonders is a thirteen-part weekly series spotlighting those Mets who had one and only one memorable season in New York.  For previous installments, please click on the players' names below:
January 2, 2012: Bernard Gilkey
January 9, 2012: Terry Leach 
January 16, 2012: George Stone
January 23, 2012: Roger Cedeño
January 30, 2012: Frank Viola
February 6, 2012: Joe Christopher