Sunday, July 31, 2016

Joey's World Tour: Won't You Take Me To ... Cooperstown?

My sister, Bee, joined me as Mike Piazza and Ken Griffey Jr. entered the Hall of Fame.  (Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

Hi, everyone!  This is your fav'rit roving reporter, Joey Beartran.  And this edition of my baseball world tour took me to a place where there is no major league baseball team, but there's certainly no shortage of baseball.

With Mike Piazza and Ken Griffey Jr. being elected into the Hall of Fame this year, it seemed like a perfect time for me (a Mets fan) and my sister, Bee (a Mariners fan), to venture 200 miles northwest of Citi Field to Cooperstown.  The Hall is located on Main Street, in an area full of baseball themed stores.  And during Hall of Fame weekend, those stores hosted many former athletes, including several Mets players of days gone by.

My photographer took several photos of these former players, but he failed to inform me that two members of the 1969 World Champion Mets found it amusing that among the many websites covering Hall of Fame weekend, one of them sent a bear instead of a human.  Needless to say, they smiled a little too much for the camera.

It's almost as if Art Shamsky and Ed Kranepool had never seen a roving reporter that's also a bear.  (EL/SM)

In addition to members of the Mets' first championship squad, there were also players from their second title team, such as Mookie Wilson, Howard Johnson and Lenny Dykstra.  I heard Jesse Orosco was also signing autographs and posing for photos with fans, but I was eating a hot dog at the time and didn't want mustard to accidentally appear on the side of my mouth in the photo.  If Shamsky and Kranepool were laughing when my face was mustard-free, how would Messy Jesse have reacted at the sight of Messy Joey?

At least Mookie, Lenny and HoJo didn't make fun of me.  (EL/SM)

Soon after meeting the Mets, meeting the Mets (again), stepping right up and greeting the Mets (for a small fee), the Hall of Fame parade began.

Thousands of people lined up on Main Street to see their favorite former players go by in the back of a Ford pickup truck.  Because who doesn't want to see Tom Glavine being taken hostage hanging out in the back of a moving pickup truck?  Missing among the living Hall of Famers were three former Mets (Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Roberto Alomar), but hey, at least we got Glavine to make up for them.

No comment.  (EL/SM)

Other Hall of Famers who took part in the parade included Jim Bunning, Johnny Bench, Reggie Jackson, Rollie Fingers, Eddie Murray, Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson, to name a few.  They were all smiles throughout the route.  (Even Eddie Murray!)  But of course, my photographer captured players like Mike Schmidt, George Brett and Dennis Eckersley at their surliest.  Because his sense of timing is awful.

Smile!  You're on Candid Studious Metsimus Camera!  (EL/SM)

The parade ended at the Hall of Fame building, which is the crown jewel of Cooperstown.  We entered the Hall three and a half hours before closing time.  By the time we got around to the gift shop, the employees were getting ready to kick us out.  (Not literally.  They were actually very polite.)  There was so much to see and do in the Hall, we could have easily spent more than three and a half hours there.

Exhibits included Women In Baseball, The African-American Baseball Experience and Viva Baseball (Latin-American baseball).  There were also wings devoted to baseball by the decades and baseball records, as well as a locker room featuring memorabilia from every team.  The area devoted to the 1970s was particularly interesting to me, even though that era was way before my time.  Two objects that stood out for me were the Andy Warhol painting of Tom Seaver (circa 1977 - not the happiest time to be Tom Seaver or a Mets fan) and the full costume of the San Diego Chicken, who entertained Padres fans at a time when the team wore brown and mustard colored uniforms and still didn't have a no-hitter.  (Well, at least they no longer wear those uniforms.)

The Chicken was lucky he didn't end up inside a Campbell's Soup can that was eventually painted by Warhol.  (EL/SM)

Once I left the '70s behind, I wish I hadn't.  You see, there was also a wing in the Hall of Fame devoted to the 2015 World Series, which I was not too keen on seeing.  (Yes, I took a photo there, but I'm not very happy about it.  If you absolutely must see it, just click here.  If the link doesn't take you to the photo, consider it a good thing.)

But enough about last year.  You want to see the Hall of Fame plaques, right?  Of course you do.  Well, you can always Google those.  There's an abundance of those photos on the interwebs.  At the time I went to see the plaques, the spots were still open for Mike Piazza and Ken Griffey Jr.  But at least both players were well-represented in the gift shop.

By the time you read this, the plaques will be there.  Please buy a jersey while you wait.  (EL/SM)

Another place they were well-represented was in their special wings.  Both Piazza and Griffey had their own section in the Hall featuring memorabilia and photos taken at various points of their distinguished careers.

Bee and I enjoyed this section very much, although I was disappointed that Piazza's area had too much focus on the other teams he played for compared to Griffey.  Griffey was a member of the Cincinnati Reds longer than Piazza was a Met, but Mariners fans like Bee will be happy to know that his wing almost exclusively features him as a Seattle Mariner.   With Piazza, it was as if the Mets were just a stop on his baseball journey.  Take a look at the photos to see what I mean.

At least Bee got what our petty cash tin paid for in the Griffey wing.  (EL/SM)

Finally, on Sunday we attended the Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the Clark Sports Center, which is about a one mile trudge from the Hall of Fame building.  We had left our blankets and lawn chairs there overnight just to reserve a spot.  By the time we got there Sunday morning, there were nearly 50,000 other people who had claimed spots around us.  That's more people than the capacity at Citi Field, even when they're selling standing room only tickets!

We were sitting too far away for my photographer to get any clear shots of the dozens of Hall of Famers sitting on the stage and the two new ones standing at the podium, but all you need to know about the ceremony can be summed up in this one photo taken off the big screen after both Piazza and Griffey had given their spectacular tear-filled speeches.

During the ceremony, Mets fans gave Piazza lots of TLC, while Griffey wore his hat 2 da back.  (EL/SM)

So that's all for this special edition of Joey's World Tour.  The next installment will come sooner than you expect, as we are planning on following the Mets to Detroit's Comerica Park next weekend.  I wonder what food options they have there...

Oh, before I forget, I have one more anecdote to share with you.  You see, a week after Mike Piazza entered the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, the Mets had a special ceremony of their own at Citi Field to retire Piazza's No. 31.  And about that plaque I mentioned before that wasn't at Cooperstown when I was there - well, it made the trip to Citi Field, and I was fortunate enough to get a photo with it before it made its return trip to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.  (You don't have to Google it like I said before.  I'll be kind enough to share it with you here.)  My photographer also took lovely photos (for a change) of Piazza's former Mets teammates - Cliff Floyd, Edgardo Alfonzo and Al Leiter - who attended the Citi Field ceremony, as well as the new retired No. 31 that now sits atop the ballpark.

The Piazza celebration is complete now that the No. 31 has been retired at Citi Field.  (EL/SM)

Mike Piazza was very special to me.  You see, on the day I was "born" at Shea Stadium in 2004, Piazza was being celebrated in an on-field celebration (which seems to be a common theme in this blog post).  A dozen years ago, the Mets were celebrating the fact that he had just become the game's top home run hitting catcher.  They invited Carlton Fisk and Johnny Bench to attend the ceremony, and Ivan Rodriguez was also there in uniform as a member of the Detroit Tigers, the Mets' opponent that day.  That was my first baseball experience - seeing a celebration of Mike Piazza.  So it's fitting that I got to see him receive the ultimate honors of being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame and having his number retired by the Mets.

So on that note, now that I'm done with Cooperstown and the two-weekend celebration of Mike Piazza, I think I'm going to rest up to make sure I'm fully awake for next weekend's getaway to Michigan to see the Mets play the Tigers, which is a rematch of that first Mets game I saw in person back in 2004.  Got any suggestions where I can hibernate for the week?  Maybe a large place where a bear can feel like home?

This place on the way back from Cooperstown seems like a good place for a bear to crash.  (EL/SM)

Take care, Mets fans.  I hope to talk to you again once I've completed the next leg of my baseball world tour!

For previous installments of Joey's World Tour, please click on the links below, where you will be entertained by Joey's wit, photos and love of ballpark cuisine:

World Tour Stop #1: Baltimore
World Tour Stop #2: Washington, DC
World Tour Stop #3: Pittsburgh
World Tour Stop #4: Texas
World Tour Stop #5: Los Angeles
World Tour Stop #6: San Diego
World Tour Stop #7: Toronto
World Tour Stop #8: Chicago (NL)
World Tour Stop #9: Milwaukee
World Tour Stop #10: Seattle
World Tour Stop #11: Cleveland
World Tour Stop #12: Brooklyn (Ebbets Field site) and Manhattan (Polo Grounds site)
World Tour Stop #13: Baltimore (again) and Pittsburgh (part deux)
World Tour Stop #14: Cincinnati
World Tour Stop #15: Colorado


Saturday, July 30, 2016

Jonathan Lucroy Isn't Yoenis Céspedes, Or Is He?

Jonathan Lucroy may not be Yoenis Cespedes, but he sure looks a lot like Daniel Murphy.  (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

No one is going to confuse Jonathan Lucroy with Yoenis Céspedes.  Céspedes is a slugger who has never hit fewer than 22 homers in any of his five seasons in the majors, averaging 31 homers and 103 RBI for every 162 games played, while Lucroy's career high in home runs is 18.  Céspedes is also a left fielder, while Lucroy squats behind the plate.

But despite the obvious differences, Lucroy has the potential to be an impact player just like Céspedes was last year for the Mets.  Allow me to explain.

The Mets have two problems.  When they're on offense, especially with runners in scoring position, they turn into a Mario Mendoza cover band.  And believe me, they've covered him very well, batting .202 (148-for-732) with runners in scoring position.

The team's other problem occurs when they're on defense.  They allow too many [expletive deleted] stolen bases!  New York has allowed 84 steals in 111 attempts, allowing opposing base runners to steal at a 76% success rate.  The average major league team has allowed just 52 stolen bases and a 71% success rate, so yeah, I'd call this a problem for the Mets.

So how do the Mets fix these two problems with just one player?  All they have to do is make a trade for Jonathan Lucroy.

For the season, Lucroy is batting .300 with 17 doubles, 13 homers and 50 RBI.  He also has a .360 on-base percentage and a .484 slugging percentage to give him an .844 OPS.  Now consider this.  Lucroy's .300 batting average and .844 OPS are both higher than the marks Céspedes was producing at the time the Mets acquired him last year.  (La Potencia was batting .293 and had an .829 OPS when he was traded to New York.)

It's true that Céspedes had driven in more runs at the time of the swap, as Yoenis had amassed 61 RBI before coming to the Mets, or 11 more than Lucroy has now.  But remember that Lucroy is a catcher and therefore did not have all the plate appearances that an outfielder like Céspedes would have.  Lucroy's 50 RBI in 324 at-bats this year (an RBI every 6.5 AB) is comparable to the 61 RBI produced by Céspedes last year in 403 at-bats prior to becoming a Met (an RBI every 6.6 AB).

Lucroy also excels at driving in runners in scoring position when there are two outs, batting .289 in those situations.  That would be a marked improvement over the paltry .164 batting average the Mets currently have under those circumstances, which includes the .308 mark put up by Céspedes.  (Take out Céspedes and the team would have a .152 batting average with two outs and runners in scoring position.  Yeah, it's really that bad.)  Imagine a lineup with two players hitting back-to-back who can produce when the team is down to its last out in an inning!  That's what Lucroy would bring to the Mets.

Now, as great as Céspedes was with the bat both last year and in 2016, there's nothing he can do about the plethora of stolen bases being registered against the Mets.  If you recall, earlier this week Céspedes hit a home run against the Cardinals that gave the Mets a late-inning lead.  However, a two-run rally by the Cardinals in the ninth inning, which included a stolen base by Jeremy Hazelbaker to set up the tie-breaking hit by Kolten Wong, caused a potential wonderful win by the Mets to turn into a devastating defeat.

Céspedes couldn't do it all in that game against St. Louis.  That's where Jonathan Lucroy comes in.

Do you know which catcher is leading the league in most base runners caught stealing?  That would be one Jonathan Charles Lucroy.  Lucroy has gunned down 32 would-be base stealers, or five more than Travis d'Arnaud, Rene Rivera and Kevin Plawecki have been able to throw out ... combined!  In addition, Lucroy has thrown out 40% of the runners trying to steal a base against him.  The National League average is just 28%.

So let's review.

Have bat, will travel - hopefully to New York.  (Rob Tringali/Getty Images)

Jonathan Lucroy has produced just as much with the bat this year with the Brewers as Céspedes did last year with the Tigers prior to Yoenis being traded to the Mets.  Lucroy is just as likely to drive in a run as Céspedes is.  It just doesn't show up in the cumulative numbers because Lucroy plays fewer games due to the fact that he is a catcher.

Lucroy is batting 125 points higher than the Mets are in two out/RISP situations, meaning that he is much more likely to collect the two-out hit needed to drive in a runner from second or third base than your typical Met is.  This would put an end to those frustrating innings when the Mets put multiple men on base but don't bring them home.

And finally, Lucroy would cause the running at will against Mets pitchers to slow down a bit once opposing base runners realize that he's actually quite adept at throwing them out.  That would thwart potential rallies and keep runs off the board.

When Rene Rivera is leading Mets catchers in home runs and RBI with four and 17, respectively, and there is the potential to acquire another catcher with a 13 and 50 in those categories, you know the Mets have to pull the trigger on this deal.

Jonathan Lucroy isn't the sexy name that Yoenis Céspedes was last year and he probably can't hit balls into the third deck at Citi Field like the Mets' outfielder has, but Lucroy can help the Mets in so many ways that even Céspedes can't.  And he could be the difference between the Mets playing meaningful games in October again or the Mets watching other teams doing the same.

Friday, July 22, 2016

30 Years Ago: The Game That Epitomized the 1986 Mets

Ray Knight tried to take Eric Davis's face clean off his face.  (MLB screen shot)

The 1986 Mets were a fighting team, both literally and figuratively.  They always fought back when faced with adversity and they never backed down from a fight (or four).  This never-say-die attitude carried the Mets to a team-record 108 victories and a world championship in October.

The team's 62nd win of the year probably epitomized the Mets more than any other game they played in 1986.  Their game at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati had it all.

It had Darryl Strawberry being ejected by home plate umpire Gerry Davis for arguing a questionable strikeout call.

It had a brawl that cleared both benches (except for George Foster, who was thinking about what kids' impressions of him would be had he joined the fracas - he should have thought what they would think of his awful "Get Metsmerized" album instead).

It had Gary Carter participating in a double play as the 80th third baseman in team history.  (Since then, there have been 81 additional players to man the hot corner for the Mets, giving the team 161 third sackers, or 96 fewer players than have played left field.  Funny how everyone talks about all the third basemen in club history, but no one ever talks about the 257 left fielders.)

It had one of those 257 left fielders - Roger McDowell - playing musical chairs with his lefthanded pitching counterpart, Jesse Orosco, as manager Davey Johnson rotated McDowell and Orosco between the pitching mound and the outfield when the team ran out of players due to ejections and other substitutions.

It had a tie-breaking three-run homer by Howard Johnson - playing shortstop at the time - to give the Mets a hard-fought (pun very much intended) victory in the 14th inning.  It was the team's second five-hour game in three days after they dropped the finale in Houston in 15 innings two days earlier on a controversial call at the plate by umpire Greg Bonin.  (And that 15-inning affair came two days after four Mets players were famously arrested for - what else - fighting some crooked cops at Cooter's.)

The game in Cincinnati on July 22, 1986 - thirty years ago today - most definitely had it all.  And almost all of it would never have happened had three-time Gold Glove winner Dave Parker not enraged then-Reds closer John Franco by dropping what should have been the final out of the game in the ninth inning...

I hope you enjoy the video, courtesy of ClassicMLB11 on YouTube, which shows the entire game (including commercials!!).  For those not interested in sitting through five hours of sometimes grainy video, the Strawberry at-bat and subsequent ejection happen around the 1 hour, 36 minute mark.  The Parker gaffe occurred at 2 hour and 56 minutes.  The fight began around 3 hours and 29 minutes, then continues for many minutes after that.  Gary Carter playing third base and turning two happens at 4 hours, 20 minutes.  HoJo's homer occurs at 4 hours, 53 minutes.  And Orosco and McDowell rotate throughout extra innings.  Enjoy!

Shoutout to ClassicMLB11 for posting this video of the Reds' TV broadcast from 7/22/86.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Are the Mets Really a Second-Half Team? Not So Fast!

The Mets began the second half of the season on a positive note last night, defeating the Philadelphia Phillies by the final score of 5-3.  It was the kind of start needed by a team that expects to be in a heated race for the division crown or one of the wild card spots.

At the start of the midsummer break, a certain Norse god (and sometimes Mets pitcher) took to Twitter to remind Mets fans of what they should expect from the team during the second half of the season.

Well, Syndergaard's sole second half in the majors was in 2015, so his experience is one of a 43-30 record after the All-Star break after the team went just 47-42 during the season's first half - a first half that included an 11-game winning streak.

Sadly, Syndergaard did not consult me before sending out that tweet or else I would have given him a little history lesson.

Since the Mets moved to Citi Field in 2009, they had won just one second-half opener prior to last night's victory.  That win came in 2014 in San Diego.  The Mets were so busy celebrating their post-All-Star Game victory two seasons ago that they were in full hangover mode for the rest of the four-game series at Petco Park, dropping each of the next three games there.

In fact, since 2002, when David Wright and Jose Reyes were still pups in the minors and Bartolo Colon was still under 200 pounds, the Mets are a combined 35 games under .500 after the break, going 474-509.  That includes last year's team, which won nearly 60% of its games in the season's second half.  Compare that to what the Mets have done in the first half of each season since 2002, when the team gave us thoughts of October baseball on a regular basis, as they went 685-656, or 29 wins over the break-even point.

This can be taken back all the way to the early days of the franchise.  Since 1969, when the team posted its first winning season, the Mets have been above .500 at the All-Star break on 28 occasions in those 48 campaigns.  That's almost 60% of the time in just about half a century's worth of seasons.  However, the Mets have only been able to post winning records in the second half just 23 times since 1969, meaning they've had sub-.500 second-half records more than half the time going back nearly five decades.  And that includes the 1975 and 2014 seasons, when the Mets finished one game over .500 in each campaign's second half (39-38 and 34-33, respectively).  It also includes the 1994 season, when the Mets went 15-11 in the abbreviated second half, as a strike killed the season just one month after the All-Star Game was played.

As much as we, as Mets fans, would like to think that our beloved team has traditionally been a second-half team, the truth of the matter is that the team has usually played its best baseball during the first halves of each season.  Of course, last year's team was an exception, but that was because the Eric Campbells, Darrell Cecilianis and John Mayberrys of the first-half world were replaced by the Michael Confortos, Juan Uribes and Yoenis Cespedeses of half No. 2.

Sandy Alderson may just upgrade the team in the next few weeks leading up to the trade deadline on Aug. 1, but the more likely scenario is that the players currently on the team will have to find a way to get healthy, stay healthy and make sure their bats and arms are healthy as well.

A Yoenis Cespedes-like savior isn't going to walk through that door this year.  And if he does, he better make sure he doesn't trip, fall and end up on the disabled list as he passes through it.

If Cespedes keeps going down, so will the Mets' chances of returning to the postseason.  (Matt Slocum/Associated Press)

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Sweepin' Ain't Easy ... Said No One at Citi Field This Weekend

After looking deflated and defeated in losing three games to their division rivals in Washington, the Mets came home for a four-game series this weekend against the Chicago Cubs, who have been the best team in baseball all season.  The series would mark the 58th time since 1962 that New York and Chicago had squared off for four consecutive games.  And in their first 57 four-game series, the Mets had taken all four games just one time.

But thanks to some timely hitting, effective pitching and a monster 6-for-6 game by Wilmer Flores, that is no longer a true statement.

New York completed a four-game sweep of the Cubs today, defeating the North Siders, 14-3.  They scored seven runs in the second inning to give Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester his shortest outing in over 300 career starts just one day after he won the National League Pitcher of the Month award for the just-completed month of June.

The Mets won the four games by blowing out the Cubs twice (they also defeated the Cubs, 10-2, on Friday) and taking two nailbiters on Thursday and Saturday, both by a 4-3 score.  Basically, they continued their dominance over the Cubs that began last year during the four-game NLCS sweep.

But as great as the Mets have performed against the Cubs over the last eight months, they had only won every game of a four-game series from Chicago just once in 57 tries.  In 1985, during the first series between the two teams after their battle for division supremacy the previous year, the Mets brought out the brooms against the Cubs in a four-game set at Shea Stadium, allowing a total of just four runs in the series.

Screen shots or it didn't happen.  (Courtesy of Ultimate Mets Database)

The Mets went on to win all nine games they played versus Chicago at Shea Stadium in 1985, taking a three-game series in August and a two-game set in September.  But the four-game sweep marked the first and only time New York had won every game of a four-game series against the Cubs in the team's first 54 seasons.  Until now.

And if you want to say that it's very difficult for any team to win four consecutive games in the same series against the same team, perhaps you should know what the usually lowly Cubs have done against the Mets in four-game sets since their first one in 1962.

That first four-game series in June 1962 at the Polo Grounds resulted in four Cubs victories.  It should be noted that the Cubs finished that campaign with a 59-103 record, which was - and still is - the worst regular season record in Chicago's long history.  (The 1966 Cubs also went 59-103.)

A year later, the Cubs swept another four-game series from the Mets, this time at Wrigley Field.  Then in 1965, the Cubs added a third venue to the four-game sweep-a-thon, taking four straight from New York at Shea Stadium.

It then took nearly two decades for Chicago to win all four games of a four-game series against the Mets, but they finally repeated the feat in 1984, scoring 32 runs in the four August games at Wrigley Field.  The Cubs had previously pulled off four-game sweeps against three awful Mets teams in 1962, 1963 and 1965.  However, the 1984 Mets squad won 90 games.  It wasn't just pushover Mets clubs that were experiencing the wrath of the Cubs in four-game sets.

Let's now fast forward seven years later to 1991.  On August 9, the Mets went into Wrigley Field with a 57-50 record.  They were still very much alive in the race for the N.L. East title, entering the game just 5½ games behind the first place Pittsburgh Pirates.  But the Cubs, who were struggling and under .500 entering the series, took out their frustrations on the Mets, winning all four games.  The sweep was the beginning of a season-changing 11-game losing streak for the Mets.

It was déjà vu all over again for the Mets in 1992, as once again in August, the Mets were still in the race for the division crown - they were 7½ games out of first - but were swept four straight in Chicago.  That sweep was the beginning of a 21-35 stretch for the Mets to close out the season.

With the Cubs moving to the N.L. Central in 1994, the Mets and Cubs only played five four-game series from 1994 to 2014, with none of them resulting in sweeps for either team.  But in 2015, the Cubs pulled off a four-game sweep of the Mets at Wrigley Field in May.  Of course, we all know how that season turned out for the Mets.

So that means the Mets suffered four-game sweeps to the Cubs seven times from 1962 to 2015, returning the favor just once in 1985.  Once.  In fifty-four seasons.

But now that number has gone up to two, as the Mets have just completed a four-game sweep of the Cubs at Citi Field - the only venue in which the Cubs have yet to turn the trick against the Mets.

Sweeping a series of any length - particularly a four-game series - may not be easy, but don't tell that to the Mets.  They treated the series the way Cubs used to treat four-game series against the Mets.  And in doing so, fans got to witness something they hadn't seen the Mets do as a team since 1985.

The Cubs are the cleanest team in baseball after they just got swept by the Mets.