Thursday, October 29, 2020

In Honor of My Grandfather, Who Taught Me About Love and Baseball

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, Abuelo.  He really loved his Dodgers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You know what?  He was right.

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

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

There is a point to this personal story.  You see, Abuelo was born on October 29, 1912.  That means today would have been his 108th birthday.  He and I never went to a Mets/Dodgers game together, but we didn't have to.  The stories took us there.

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

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

Happy 108th birthday, Abuelo.  And thank you for always taking me out to the ballgame.

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

Saturday, October 17, 2020

A Walking Tour of New York Baseball History

When a hitter takes a free pass, he walks - or runs, in the case of Brandon Nimmo - 90 feet to first base.  When I decided to pass through the city freely, traveling on foot to various sites of former and current ballparks to raise money for the American Cancer Society, I walked 64 miles, or 337,920 feet.

This two-day journey through all five boroughs took me to major league stadiums (Citi Field and Yankee Stadium), minor league parks (MCU Park and Richmond County Bank Ballpark at St. George) and several sites where professional baseball used to be played.  If you followed along on Facebook and Twitter while I was shuffling my feet, you saw me post short videos at each location.  If you didn't, that's where this blog post comes in.  Think of it as the Cliff's Notes to my walking tour of New York baseball history.


This place is a part of my past, present and future.  (Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

The walk began on Friday, October 9, at Heritage Field in the Bronx.  This is where old Yankee Stadium used to stand from 1923 to 2008.  The field, which has not been well maintained during the current global pandemic, is where Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and the recently departed Whitey Ford established themselves as baseball legends.

There is not much left from the original Yankee Stadium in this area other than the large bat that used to stand outside the House That Ruth Built and a piece of the iconic frieze, which was originally above the upper deck of the old ballpark.  That frieze is now located by a running track located in the approximate area where the center field wall at the old Yankee Stadium once stood.


Batman vs. Mr. Freeze?  No, it's just a bat and a frieze.  (EL/SM)

From Heritage Field, I crossed E. 161 St. to the new Yankee Stadium, which opened for business in 2009.  Despite it being the closest major league stadium to where I live, I have never set foot inside the new stadium, and I'm okay with that.  Besides, I'd probably look just like this in all my photos if I ever entered the ballpark.


Doing my best Siskel & Ebert reviewing "Ishtar" pose. (EL/SM)

The Yankees weren't always known by that moniker.  In fact, they weren't always a New York team.  In 1901 and 1902, the franchise played in Baltimore as the original Orioles, then they moved to Manhattan and became the New York Highlanders.  The Highlanders took that name because they played their home games in American League Park, which was better known as Hilltop Park because it sat atop a hill in Washington Heights.  That was the future Yankees' home for ten seasons (1903-12) before their lease expired.  They then left the park and the Highlanders name to move to the Polo Grounds and play as the New York Yankees.

Hilltop Park was demolished in 1913, but over a century later, there is still one reminder that a ballpark once rose atop the hill.

After I crossed Macombs Dam Bridge into Manhattan, I made my way to Fort Washington Avenue between W. 165 St. and W. 168 St.  This is the current location of the New York Presbyterian / Columbia University Irving Medical Center.  On the east side of Fort Washington Avenue, just north of W. 165 St. is a set of two gates that lead to a garden and chapel.  These gates are usually locked from the outside, but as one person left the gate furthest away from W. 165 St., I took advantage and went in before the gate locked shut.  Walking to the back of the garden across from the chapel, I found a plate-shaped plaque that was dedicated on the exact spot where Hilltop Park's home plate was once located.  It's a shame that it's not easily accessible to the public, but as long as you don't mind sneaking in - the garden is technically a public space even though it's behind a locked gate - the Hilltop Park artifact is there for the viewing.

Behind a locked gate, this home plate is definitely safe.  (EL/SM)


When the Highlanders moved to the Polo Grounds in 1913 and became the Yankees, they shared their new home with their National League counterparts, the New York Giants.  The Giants had only been in existence for a little over a quarter century, but they already had quite a history with their home ballparks.  In fact, their home in 1913 was the fourth such edifice known as the Polo Grounds.

The original Polo Grounds was built in 1876 and was located between Fifth and Sixth Avenues from 110th to 112th Streets, just north of Central Park.  Polo was originally played there before the original New York Metropolitans called it home from 1880 to 1885.  The Metropolitans, who played in the American Association, shared Polo Grounds I with the National League's New York Gothams, who began play in 1883.  Two years later, the Gothams became the Giants.

In 1886, the Giants no longer had to share a stadium with the original "Mets", as the Metropolitans baseball club left polo for cricket, vacating the Polo Grounds to move into their new home in Staten Island at the St. George Cricket Grounds, where they played for two seasons until the team ceased operations.  The Giants' residence at Polo Grounds I ended after the 1888 season, when the city of New York decided they wanted to extend the Manhattan street grid north of 110th St.  Needing a new home, the Giants played two games at Oakland Park in Jersey City, NJ before temporarily moving to the St. George Cricket Grounds.  While they played in Staten Island for two months, a new Polo Grounds was being erected under Coogan's Bluff in upper Manhattan.  That ballpark opened in the summer of 1889.

Polo Grounds II was not the only park in the area.  Just two blocks south was a ballpark that housed another baseball team known as the New York Giants.  Those Giants were part of the Players' League and they played in Brotherhood Park in 1890.  When the rival Players' League folded after just one season, the National League's New York Giants moved into Brotherhood Park in 1891 and renamed it - you guessed it - the Polo Grounds, the third such park with that name.

The third Polo Grounds was built out of wood, which as we all know is quite flammable.  Sure enough, in April 1911, Polo Grounds III was destroyed by a fire, forcing the Giants to relocate to Hilltop Park for two months while a new Polo Grounds was being built on the same location as the burned down building.  Learning from the past, Polo Grounds IV was built out of steel and concrete, allowing it to survive everything except a demolition ball, which was used after the second iteration of the Mets left for Shea Stadium in 1964.

In over half a century, Polo Grounds IV housed the Giants (1911-57), Yankees (1913-22) and Mets (1962-63).  The site now houses the Polo Grounds Towers, an apartment complex that overlooks the Harlem River.  There are still several reminders that baseball was once played there, including a new Polo Grounds Towers sign that's painted in the old New York Giants' colors and the John T. Brush Stairway, which used to lead fans down Coogan's Bluff into the Polo Grounds.

Also the first home of the New York Mets.  (EL/SM)


The Yankees and Giants were just two of the three major league teams that called New York home prior to the formation of the Mets in 1962.  Brooklyn once had a team as well, but they weren't always called the Dodgers.

From 1883 to 1891, the Brooklyn Atlantics, Brooklyn Grays, Brooklyn Bridegrooms and Brooklyn Grooms played at the first Washington Park in the neighborhood of Park Slope.  This ballpark was located between Fourth and Fifth Avenues from 3rd to 5th Streets.  Currently, a public park with that name can be found where Brooklyn's first National League team once played.  After leaving Washington Park in 1892, the team moved to Eastern Park in Brownsville.  But when fans failed to follow the team to their new digs in Brownsville, the club moved back to a new Washington Park after the 1897 season, located just a block away from the original ballpark.

This park, in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn, was home to the team with many names, as they were known as the Bridegrooms in 1898 and the Superbas from 1899 to 1910 before finally setting on the Dodgers in 1911 after the people who dodged the trolleys in the vicinity of Washington Park.  Brooklyn played at this Washington Park for fifteen seasons (1898-1912) before moving to Ebbets Field in 1913.

Washington Park might not be standing anymore, but the building's wall still is.  A short 12-mile walk from the Polo Grounds Towers, on the corner of Third Avenue and 1st St. in Gowanus, is a wall that looks exactly like what you'd expect a late 19th century/early 20th century ballpark wall to look like.  The brick wall that was behind center field runs for part of 1st St., while the wall that stood behind the left field area of the park takes up all of Third Ave. from 1st St. to 3rd St.  The photos below show what that exterior wall of Washington Park looked like.

Washington Park wall.  (EL/SM)


Once the Dodgers left Washington Park for the new Ebbets Field in 1913, they became the Superbas once again before taking the new name of the Brooklyn Robins in 1914.  That name stuck for nearly two decades until they finally settled on the Dodgers for good in 1932.  The Dodgers played at Ebbets Field for another quarter century before failed attempts at a new ballpark in Brooklyn or Queens caused the team to move to Los Angeles, taking the Giants with them to the Golden State.

The location of Ebbets Field in Crown Heights (the area was part of Flatbush when the Dodgers called it home) is now covered with apartment buildings.  Similar to the Polo Grounds Towers in Manhattan, the Ebbets Field Apartments (also known as the Jackie Robinson Apartments) rest on the location of a former major league ballpark.  This apartment complex also remembers its history, with a cornerstone on Bedford Ave. that notes what used to stand there and a home plate marker just outside a laundromat within the complex, which can be seen by walking into a nondescript entrance on Sullivan Place.  (The former address of Ebbets Field was 55 Sullivan Place.)

The site of the House That Jackie Built.  (EL/SM)


Before the Dodgers settled on moving to the west coast, one of the areas they were looking at for a new stadium was in Queens.  And seven years after Brooklyn got out of Dodge, Queens had its own team when Shea Stadium opened to Mets fans in 1964.

The Mets became New York's one and only National League team in 1962, setting up shop at Polo Grounds IV for two seasons while they waited for Shea Stadium to be completed.  Once they moved to Flushing, the Mets stayed at Shea for 45 seasons - the same number of years Ebbets Field hosted the Dodgers/Superbas/Robins - before moving across the parking lot to Citi Field in 2009.

By the time I walked the ten miles from the site of Ebbets Field to the former home of Shea Stadium, the sun had set on my first day of walking, so I ran the Shea Stadium bases, which are conveniently marked in the current Citi Field parking lot, before taking one last photo with my Studious Metsimus colleagues outside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda entrance at Citi Field.

Time for bed.  There's still another day of walking to go!  (EL/SM)

Day two of my baseball walk (Saturday, October 10) began where the first day ended - at Citi Field.  Although the sun had not officially risen when I got there, there was enough daylight to take photos of the area where Shea Stadium used to be and the special purple and back bunting above the Seaver Entrance, which was named after the late Tom Seaver.

May "The Franchise" rest in peace.  (EL/SM)

With the major league parks out of the way, it was now time to go back to the minors.  From Queens, I walked over the Kosciuszko Bridge to Brooklyn, made my way through Greenpoint and Wiliamsburg, then scampered over the Williamsburg Bridge to Manhattan.  Once in Manhattan, I made my way south through Chinatown and the Financial District before arriving at the Staten Island Ferry terminal.  Since it's not possible to walk to Staten Island from another borough, I got on the ferry and walked around the boat as I made the 25-minute trip through New York Harbor.  Once the ferry docked at the St. George terminal, I walked a short distance to the next stop: Richmond County Bank Ballpark at St. George, a.k.a. the home of the Staten Island Yankees.

The Staten Island Yankees have played in the New York-Penn League since 1999.  In their first two seasons, they played their home games at the College of Staten Island Baseball Complex before moving into their current home in St. George.  The parking lot of RCB Ballpark is also home to a bit of baseball history, as that was the former location of the St. George Cricket Grounds, where the original New York Metropolitans and New York Giants played in the 1880s.

The ballpark in Staten Island has several unique features, such as the likeness of the Verrazzano Bridge above the video board in left field, a panoramic view of the Lower Manhattan skyline, and a Wall of Fame dedicated not to former players, but to the baseball scouts who discovered some of the best players.  If only that Wall of Fame wasn't located behind the first base stands, invisible to mostly everyone in the stadium.

Seriously, couldn't this have been located where it could be, you know, seen?  (EL/SM)


From Staten Island, it was back on the ferry to Manhattan, followed by a walk north to the Manhattan Bridge, which I crossed to get back into Brooklyn.  On my way to the final destination of this two-day baseball trip, I made a stop at Barclays Center.  Why did I stop at a place that was built for basketball, hockey and non-sports events?  Because it is also the home of a piece of Brooklyn Dodgers history.

Outside the arena, on the corner of Atlantic Ave. and Flatbush Ave., is a lone flagpole.  But this is not just any flagpole.  No, my friends, this pole once flew at Ebbets Field and was brought to Barclays Center in 2012 to commemorate the return of professional, major league sports to Brooklyn.  (The NBA's Nets have called Barclays Center home since 2012, while the NHL's Islanders played there from 2015-19.)

O say, does that Ebbets Field banner yet wave?  Yes.  Yes, it does.  (EL/SM)

I had already walked over 50 miles between the two days.  I had visited two current MLB stadiums, the sites of several former major league parks and had even seen some artifacts from those current and former parks that are still standing.  I had just one stop to go.  And to do so, I had to walk as far south as I could go on foot in Brooklyn.  I had to go to Coney Island.

By this time, I was walking at a Bartolo Col√≥n home run trot pace.  But I was determined to make it to my final destination.  I walked eight miles through the neighborhoods of Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Kensington, Borough Park, Midwood and Gravesend, with no other baseball sites to slow me down.  And right before sunset, I finally made it to Coney Island.  Once there, I passed by Luna Park.  I also passed by Nathan's.  I did not pass by MCU Park, which was the end of my journey.

Once the Brooklyn Dodgers left for California after the 1957 season, the borough of Kings was left without professional baseball for 44 years.  It wasn't until the Cyclones came to town in 2001 that Brooklyn had a team again.

The Cyclones started in St. Catharines, Ontatrio, as a minor league affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays.  They played in Canada from 1986 to 1999, before moving to Queens in 2000 as the Queens Kings.  Although they played in Mets country, they were still the New York-Penn League affiliate of the Blue Jays.  Finally, in 2001, and nearly half a century after the Brooklyn Dodgers considered building a new home in Queens, the Kings moved from Queens to Brooklyn, setting up shop at KeySpan Park in Coney Island, which was renamed MCU Park in 2010.

Brooklyn had a professional baseball team again and this bum was done with his walk.


Forgive the blurriness.  It was late and I was tired.  (EL/SM)


In just two days, I covered 64 miles walking through all five boroughs and saw more New York baseball history than I ever thought I could.  But most importantly, I helped raise $2,100.00 for the American Cancer Society.

This was a 36-hour period I will never forget and one my feet will probably never forgive me for.  But I certainly hope they'll get over it.  After all, it was a baseball trip.  And taking a walk is always good for the team.

A walk is as good as a hit.  In this case, my walk was a hit.  (EL/SM)

Monday, June 15, 2020

June 15, 1983: My Ten-Year-Old Self Shares Memories of My First Mets Game

The Internet did not exist in 1983.  Neither did winning baseball at Shea Stadium.  As a ten-year-old Mets fan in '83, I knew as much about the World Series as I did the World Wide Web, as both were still years away from becoming a reality.

So when my Little League team decided to attend a Mets game together on Wednesday, June 15, 1983, I was naturally excited but I didn't have a forum to document my experience.  (My mother had discovered my diary just a weeks before the game and because of her find, I wasn't allowed to write in it anymore.  Censorship at its overprotective motherly worst.)

It's been exactly 37 years since I attended that game, so I thought now would be a perfect time to finally tell that story.  To make this recap even more special, I have decided to allow my ten-year-old self access to my computer.  I figured more people would be able to read the recap that way instead of trying to read it on my just-returned-to-me diary.

Take it away, Eddie!

Hi, everyone!  My name is Eddie Leyro and I'm ten-and-a-half years old.  I just got home from Shea Stadium where I saw my first-ever Mets game!  I went to the game with my Little League team and some of the coaches and I had an awesome time.  Well, it would have been better than awesome had the Mets actually won the game.  But stupid Rusty Staub made a dumb error in the tenth inning that helped the Chicago Cubs win the game.  I mean, seriously.  Even Orko from the "He-Man" cartoon could've made that play and he floats in mid-air!

Anyway, the game started with Craig Swan sucking more than Madonna's music.  (I mean, do you really think she's going to have a long career as a singer?  She's no Toni Basil!)  Swan was knocked out of the game in the second inning after giving up an RBI single to Bill Buckner in the first and allowing Jody Davis, Mel Hall and Ryne Sandberg to drive in runs in the second.

Once Swan hit the showers, I figured I'd hit the concession stand with my teammates, David and Robby.  But I never got my hot dog because the coaches had to get off the line to break up a fight by our pitcher, Walter and our second baseman, Ricky in the bathroom.  Walter was also the son of our manager, so you can imagine who got blamed for starting it.  (Hint: Not Walter.)  Needless to say, I never got my hot dog.  The coaches made us all go back to our upper deck seats and no hot dog vendor came around.  The only other time they allowed us to get out of our seats was when a few of the guys had to go to the bathroom.  I didn't go because I don't like peeing in public.  I'm as afraid of public restrooms as B.A. Baracus is of flying on a plane.

Anyway, by the time we got back to our seats, the Mets had already scored a run to cut the Cubs' lead to 4-1 and I just managed to see my first major league home run, a shot by Hubie Brooks in the bottom of the third to make it 4-2.  I didn't get why people were booing him until I was told that the fans were actually saying "HUUUUUUUUUU-bie".  Baseball fans are very weird.

The fans also cheered a message that was posted on the DiamondVision about some guy named Keith Hernandez.  Apparently, he was just traded to the Mets for a few pitchers.  He can't be as bad as the guys already on the team, right?

Oh, I almost forgot!  The Mets tied the game right after the DiamondVision announcement on an RBI double by Jose Oquendo and a run-scoring single by Danny Heep.  But of course, Heep got greedy like Boss Hogg and got thrown out trying to get to second base.  Had Heep not gotten thrown out, the Mets might have taken the lead in that inning.  Instead, the game was just tied, 4-4, and stayed that way through nine innings.

Maybe if Danny Heep didn't have such a big ear flap on his helmet, he'd have seen he was going to be out by a mile.

Coach Walter, Sr., announced that we would stay for the tenth inning, but we'd have to go home if the game kept going.  It was a Wednesday night and we had to go to school the next day.  So I started praying for the Mets to hold the Cubs scoreless in the tenth and then maybe Hubie Brooks could hit another home run to win it in the bottom of the inning.  But while I was alternating between one of my many Hail Marys and Our Fathers, the Cubs scored three runs, all because our first baseman, Rusty Staub, made a lousy error.

The Mets didn't score in the bottom of the tenth, as Hubie Brooks made an out and the skinny rookie, Darryl Strawberry, grounded into a double play to end the game.  All I kept thinking as we walked down the Shea Stadium ramps was:

a)  This Keith Hernandez better be a good first baseman so that this Rusty Staub guy isn't allowed to make more stupid errors.

2)  Why do we have to go down these long ramps when there are escalators all over the place?

iii)  Oh, snap!  I never got my hot dog!

So that's it.  My first Shea Stadium experience.  Craig Swan sucked.  My teammates fought in the bathroom.  And Rusty Staub should never play first base again.  But at least the experience was more fun than having to sit through another rerun of "The Facts of Life", which I would have done had I stayed home.  (They should really move "Magnum P.I." from Thursday to Wednesday.  That would be, like, totally awesome.)

I hope you liked my recap.  Maybe I should ask my mom to get me a Commodore 64.  I'm sure it's a lot better to write on than my diary! 

I certainly didn't adore my easily-read diary.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

The Von Hayes Game Haunts Me to This Day

Forget Freddy Krueger.  This is the true man of my nightmares.  (

On June 11, 1985, the Mets took on the Philadelphia Phillies at Veterans Stadium.  New York entered the game with a 31-22 record, leaving them just three games behind the first place Chicago Cubs.  The Phillies, on the other hand, were already falling out of contention in the N.L. East with a 20-34 mark.  Only the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cleveland Indians had a worse record in the majors than the phloundering Phils at the time.

Starting for the Mets that night was Tom Gorman, who was making just his seventh start in the big leagues but was entering the game with a solid 2.52 ERA.  Philadelphia countered with Charles Hudson, who had lost each of his previous four starts, with the Phillies having scored a total of seven runs in those four contests.

Clearly, the Mets appeared to have an advantage coming in to the game.  Then Von Hayes happened.  And I haven’t recovered since.

Without going into too much detail for fear that I’ll suffer a post-traumatic Mets disorder breakdown, Gorman faced seven batters and retired one of them.  He couldn’t retire Von Hayes, who led off the game with a home run.  Gorman had already been replaced by Calvin Schiraldi by the time Hayes batted for a second time in the first frame, not like Hayes could tell the difference, as he launched a grand slam off Schiraldi.  An inning later, with Schiraldi still in the game, Hayes singled and scored a run.

After two innings, the Mets were losing, 16-0.  And then it got worse.

Schiraldi allowed ten runs before manager Davey Johnson ended his suffering.  The Mets then scored seven unanswered runs to make it 16-7, at which time Johnson summoned Joe Sambito from the bullpen to relieve Doug Sisk, who had pitched 2 scoreless innings.  Clearly, Sambito decided he was going to pay homage to Schiraldi’s performance, as he gave up ten runs of his own.  Included in the carnage was a bases loaded walk to Von Hayes, who later came around to score his fourth run of the game on a groundout.

The final straw in what became a 26-7 loss came during the WHN radio post-game show when the turning point of the game was announced.  Was it Von Hayes’ leadoff homer or his grand slam?  How about Sambito giving up a ten-spot after the Mets had cut the deficit to a “manageable” nine runs?  Nope, it happened well before either of those events took place, as fellow Von Hayes Game sufferer Vince Vincenzo can attest.

Oh say, can you see how much this game affected me.

Things eventually got better for the Mets following their historic loss to the Phillies, a game that forever put Von Hayes’ name in the minds of Mets fans who obsess over every little thing about their team.  (And by “Mets fans who obsess over every little thing about their team”, I mean me.)

New York passed the first place Cubs in the standings and went on to win 98 games in 1985, just two victories shy of a franchise record.  Yes, they lost the division to the St. Louis Cardinals instead of the Cubs, but they proved that the 1984 campaign - a year in which they won 90 games and finished above .500 for the first time in eight years - was not a fluke.  They continued their climb in 1986, a season that culminated in the franchise’s second World Series championship.

Since winning it all just sixteen months and sixteen days after the Von Hayes Game took place, the Mets have reached the playoffs six times, including three division titles and two National League pennants.  One would think that success would erase the events of June 11, 1985 from my mind.  One would be wrong.

The truly Hayesian effort continues to haunt me to this day.  Every time the Mets fall behind by a significant number of runs early in a game, I find myself saying aloud, “Who’s going to be Von Hayes in this game?”  Whenever a Mets reliever comes into the game in a mop-up role, proceeds to get shelled and then is left on the mound to take one for the team, the Schiraldi and Sambito Wrecking Crew come to mind.

Even while watching a Mets game that ends up well for the good guys, the Von Hayes Game is inevitably brought up.

During the current pandemic, SNY has taken to showing classic Mets games from years past.  One contest that has been aired ad nauseam is Game Seven of the 1986 World Series.  As we all know, while Von Hayes and his Phillies’ teammates were watching this game at home, the Mets were putting together their second straight comeback win against the Red Sox.  With the score tied in the seventh inning, Boston manager John McNamara brought in Calvin Schiraldi to face Ray Knight, who had delivered a key single against Schiraldi in the miraculous tenth inning comeback just two nights before.  Knight followed up his bloop in Game Six with a blast in Game Seven, taking Schiraldi out of the park to give the Mets the lead.  But they weren’t done yet.

After Knight circled the bases, Schiraldi allowed a hit to Lenny Dykstra, uncorked a wild pitch on a pitchout to Rafael Santana, then gave up another hit to Santana.  After Roger McDowell moved Santana into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt, McNamara replaced Schiraldi with Joe Sambito, who continued to add gas to the fire.  Sambito issued two walks and allowed a sacrifice fly to Keith Hernandez, which scored the sixth run of the game, otherwise known as the run that was the difference in the 8-5 championship-clinching win by the Mets.

A normal fan would have just celebrated the rally by the Mets, praising their clutch hitters coming up big in key late-inning situations.  I guess I’m not a normal fan.  Because this is what I was doing while watching that seventh inning (even though I mistakenly referred to it as happening in the sixth; I blame Von Hayes for my error).

We all have games that give us a kind of post-traumatic Mets disorder; games that are forever associated with the opposing player responsible for our pain.  Whenever someone mentions the Terry Pendleton Game, we know what they’re referring to.  The Mike Scioscia Game?  Don’t get me started.  Some people even can’t let go of the Jason Jennings Game (although I think those people remember it more for Donne Wall than for what Jennings did to the Mets).  Personally, I’m surprised that after his devastating performance against the Marlins to close out the 2007 season, Tom Glavine didn’t say, “I’m disappointed, but at least it wasn’t the Von Hayes Game.”

See what I mean about PTMD and not being able to let things go?

For me, I can’t seem to rid myself of the Von Hayes Game, which took place 35 years ago today.  It comes back to me during blowouts.  It comes back to me during World Series viewings.  It comes back to me when I flip the channel past VH-1 and think it stands for “Von Hayes Won”.  Heck, I can’t even see the Van Halen logo and not think of Von Hayes.

You can't unsee it, can you?

A third of a century after “The Von Hayes Game” became part of my vocabulary, the Mets defeated the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, 24-4.  In that game, played on August 16, 2018, the Mets broke a 31-year franchise record for runs scored in a game.  They pounded out 25 hits, of which 11 went for extra bases.  It got so bad for the home team that they used two position players to pitch the final three innings.  The Mets knocked them around as well, crossing the plate nine times in those three frames.

I should have been ecstatic at the offensive outburst.  I should have been thrilled the Mets beat up on a division rival.  I should have celebrated a long standing franchise record being toppled.  Instead, I just said four words as the game came to its conclusion.


I guess it just goes to say that in good times and in bad, the man and the game that put his name in my brain will always find a way to haunt me.  Anyone know the number of a good exorcist?

Call the Ghostbusters.  I'm being haunted by Von Hayes. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Jose Lima and the Final Destination of the 2006 Mets' Starting Pitchers

Here's to you, Mr. Lima.  Hope you're able to pitch past the fifth inning in Heaven.  (Victor Baldizon/Getty Images)

Ten years ago today, the baseball world lost one of its true characters in Jose Lima.  The former Met, who had heart issues before his untimely death on May 23, 2010, finished his career with an 89-102 record and 5.26 ERA in 235 starts, which is the highest lifetime earned run average in major league history for a pitcher who made that many starts. 

Lima was the second pitcher who started at least one game for the 2006 Mets to pass away, following the death of Geremi Gonzalez (who was then known by his hip-hop nom de plume, Jeremi Gonzalez) in 2008.  Gonzalez was tragically killed at the age of 33 after being struck by lightning in Venezuela.

Back in 2009, Studious Metsimus jokingly reported that after the Mets released Jose Lima in 2006, he put a hex on the franchise, lovingly referred to as "The Curse of Lima Time".  The whammy was supposedly the reason for the Mets' failure to reach the World Series in 2006, as well as their late-season collapses in 2007 and 2008.

But is the curse real?  Has it expanded beyond a Studious Metsimus story?  A look at the thirteen starting pitchers who took the mound for the Mets in 2006 seems to suggest that it might have escaped the confines of this blog and gone searching for the Unlucky Thirteen.


Tom Glavine (32 starts) - Failed to get more than one out for the Mets in the 2007 season finale.  Later went back to Atlanta where he picked up two wins and was released by the team in 2009.  By co-inky-dink, he ended his career the way he began it, by going 2-4 with a 5.54 ERA for the Braves in 2008.  He also went 2-4 with a 5.54 ERA for the Braves in his first season with the team back in 1987.

Steve Trachsel (30 starts) - After leading the 2006 Mets with 16 wins, the Human Rain Delay II (with apologies to the original Human Rain Delay, Mike Hargrove) signed a free agent contract with the Baltimore Orioles in 2007.  He was traded in August 2007 to the Chicago Cubs, then re-signed by the Orioles the following off-season, before being released by Baltimore in June 2008.  His post-Mets stats for the 2007 and 2008 seasons featured an abysmal 9-16 won-loss record and a 5.60 ERA.

(David Zalubowski/AP)
Pedro Martinez (23 starts) - Started off brilliantly in 2006, earning wins in each of his first five starts.  Then he was placed on the disabled list after pitching horribly in his return to Fenway Park on June 28.  After coming back from his injury exactly one month later, Martinez pitched poorly in the potential division clincher at PNC Park and was caught weeping in the dugout.  In July 2009, Pedro signed a one-year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, but his affiliation with the Bloods (see photo, right) helped bring about his downfall.  Facing the Yankees in the that year's Fall Classic also helped, as Pedro lost the two starts he made, including the game that gave the Yankees their sole championship of the last 19 seasons.  Following his defeat in Game Six, the 37-year-old Martinez never pitched again in the major leagues.

Orlando Hernandez (20 starts) - It looked as if the Curse of Lima Time was going to escape Orlando "The Dookie" Hernandez.  After all, he was surprisingly effective for the Mets after being acquired in a trade from the Arizona Diamondbacks.  The Dookie went 9-7 for the Mets and struck out nearly a batter per inning (112 Ks in 116.2 innings).  However, The Dookie met The Curse right after he was named the starting pitcher for Game One of the 2006 NLDS.  While running sprints in the outfield, the then-57 year old (give or take a few decades) tore a calf muscle and had to be removed from the postseason roster.  Despite his AARP membership and injury history, the Mets signed Mr. Dookie to a two-year, $12 million contract that off-season.  They were rewarded by getting 24 starts from His Dookness in 2007 and no starts in 2008.  He then signed a minor league deal with the Texas Rangers in 2009, only to be released a month later.  No longer in baseball, The Dookerino has apparently been offered three lucrative deals to be the spokesperson for Geritol, Metamucil and Depends undergarments.

John Maine (15 starts) - Maine was originally the throw-in when the Mets unloaded Kris and Anna Benson to the Baltimore Orioles for Jorge Julio (who was then traded to Arizona for The Dookie).  Maine impressed so much as a rookie for the Mets in 2006 that he earned a spot on the postseason roster.  His victory in Game Six of the NLCS helped the Mets reach the do-or-die Game Seven against the Cardinals.  Although Maine won 15 games in 2007, his ERA increased annually through 2010, when he won one game and posted a 6.13 ERA in nine starts.  Maine never won a game in the majors after his 29th birthday and appeared in just four games as a thirty-something, all of them coming for the lowly Marlins in 2013.  The scowl that once helped Maine get hitters out is now solely seen whenever someone utters Jerry Manuel's name.

The look of a man who just heard Jerry Manuel say "gangsta" for the umpteenth time. (AP Photo)

Alay Soler (8 starts) - Pitched a complete-game shutout against the Arizona Diamondbacks in his fourth major league start.  Three starts later, he gave up eight runs to the Boston Red Sox.  After that game, he was told to watch tapes of his outing against the Diamondbacks to prepare for his next start against the Yankees.  The Curse of Lima Time struck again, as the tapes were misplaced and instead Soler watched the tapes from his Boston Massacre.  He learned well, as he gave up another eight runs to the Yankees.  So long, Soler.  That marked the end of his short-lived major league career.

Oliver Perez (7 starts) - When the Mets needed a reliever to replace Dominican food aficionado Duaner Sanchez, they traded Xavier Nady to the Pittsburgh Pirates for 41-year-old Roberto Hernandez and Oliver Perez.  Perez did not pitch well for the Mets after his trade, going 1-3 with a 6.38 ERA.  He did pitch in Game Seven of the NLCS and then went 25-17 over the next two seasons, fooling the Mets into giving him a three-year, $36 million contract after the 2008 campaign.  Perez "rewarded" the Mets with three victories over the length of the contract.  However, sales of antacids did increase exponentially in Flushing during his time with the team, which was good news if your name was Duane or Reade.

Brian Bannister (6 starts) - The son of former major league pitcher Floyd Bannister was a respectable 2-0 with a 2.89 ERA for the 2006 Mets before the Curse of Lima Time found him on the bases at the ballpark formerly known as Pac Bell, SBC and AT&T Park.  While trying to score a run, Bannister left his hamstring in San Francisco and missed the next four months of the season.  Bannister was not himself after his return, going 0-1 with an 8.10 ERA.  He was traded that off-season to the Kansas City Royals for future felon Ambiorix Burgos, proving that the Curse of Lima Time was contagious.

Victor Zambrano (5 starts) - I won't waste your time.  You already know his story.  He was cursed before Lima could get to him.

Dave Williams (5 starts) - Williams was never meant to make that many starts for the Mets, but the team's membership with the Injury of The Week Club forced him into action five times.  Williams went 3-1 for the Mets in 2006, but the good record was due to excellent run support, as his ERA was a high 5.59.  Williams was not as lucky in 2007, appearing in only two games for the Mets.  Perhaps his 22.85 ERA had something to do with the lack of appearances.  Although he was only 28 at the time, Williams never pitched in the major leagues again.

Mike Pelfrey (4 starts) - Appeared to have been born with the antidote to the Curse of Lima Time in his blood.  After his breakout 2008 season, Big Pelf struggled a bit in 2009, but was been the Mets' most dependable starting pitcher in 2010, going 15-9 with a 3.66 ERA while surpassing the 200-inning mark for the first time in his career.  Pelfrey's success was short-lived, as he followed up his 2010 campaign by becoming one of the game's worst pitchers from 2011 until his final game in 2017.  Over those seven seasons, Pelfrey went 25-62 with a 4.99 ERA and 1.56 WHIP pitching for the Mets, Twins, Tigers and White Sox.  By age 33, the former ninth overall pick was out of the game.

The reason my wife drinks.  (Reuters)
Jose Lima (4 starts) - Just like Lou Gehrig wasn't immune to the disease named after him, Jose Lima fell to the Curse that took his name. Lima never pitched again in the majors after his brief tour of duty with the Mets, a tour that included an 0-4 record, a 9.87 ERA and a grand slam allowed to opposing pitcher Dontrelle Willis (which my future wife didn't remember even though she was at the game because Lima's appearance on the mound caused her to become best friends with her section's beer vendor).  Lima did, however, reach one milestone while in New York.  On May 12, 2006, Lima was credited with his 100th career loss, earning the landmark defeat by allowing five runs in 4⅔ innings against the Milwaukee Brewers.

Geremi Gonzalez (3 starts) - Gonzalez started against Randy Johnson in the first game of the 2006 Subway Series at Shea Stadium and gave up four runs in the first inning.  The Mets eventually won that game on David Wright's walk-off hit off Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the ninth inning, making Gonzalez the answer to the trivia question, "Who sucked so badly in Game One of the 2006 Subway Series that the Mets needed a walk-off hit by David Wright to win the game?"  Unfortunately for Gonzalez, he made a better lightning rod than starting pitcher, as he was killed during a thunderstorm in his native Venezuela.


The starting pitchers for the 2006 Mets, otherwise known as the Unlucky Thirteen, have suffered professionally and personally since that 2006 campaign. The so-called Curse of Lima Time has claimed careers and lives, including the man for whom it was named.

Although this blog was written as a humor piece, we do not mean to poke fun at the expense of Jose Lima, who passed away ten years ago today at the age of 37.  Lima was a fun-loving man who had a respectable major league career, if you don't look at his ERA or X-Rays of my wife's liver.  Lima was also a positive presence in the clubhouse and was loved by his teammates.

Jose Lima will always be missed in the major league community and of course, in the blogging community.  May he continue to rest in peace.

This is how most Mets fans remember Jose Lima.  (Howard Earl Simmons/NY Daily News)

Sunday, January 19, 2020

If Studious Metsimus Had a 2020 Hall of Fame Vote...

On Tuesday, January 21, the National Baseball Hall of Fame will be reaching out to its newest enshrinees to inform them that they should cancel all plans for the final weekend in July because they'll be going to Cooperstown instead.  Those all-time greats of the game will be joining Ted Simmons and Marvin Miller, who were voted in by the Modern Baseball Era Committee, as the newest members of the hallowed Hall.

Last year, six former players were inducted, including the first player ever to have his name checked off on 100% of the ballots (Mariano Rivera).  In addition to Rivera, fellow pitchers Lee Smith, Mike Mussina and the late Roy Halladay received the game's greatest individual honor, as well as a pair of designated hitters (Harold Baines and Edgar Martinez).

This year's class does not appear to be as crowded as last year's, if we're to believe Ryan Thibodaux's Hall of Fame ballot tracker.  But that doesn't mean hotels in Cooperstown will be hanging vacancy signs outside their doors.  On the contrary, one potential enshrinee might attract fans from California to Kalamazoo, while another could bring the entire population of Canada with him.  And then there are those who would just show up to boo in the event a seven-time MVP and seven-time Cy Young Award recipient are inducted, not to mention an outspoken pitcher who contributed to two bitter postseason defeats of one of New York's baseball teams.  (Spoiler alert:  It's not the Mets.)

There are seven former Mets on this year's ballot, but no one is expecting Billy Wagner, Gary Sheffield, Jeff Kent, J.J. Putz, Heath Bell, Bobby Abreu or the great Jose Valverde to give a speech on July 26.  For them to get up on stage at the Clark Sports Center, they would each need approximately 309 votes, or 75% of the 412 ballots cast.  Either that or they could channel their inner Kanye West and pretend one of the actual inductees is Taylor Swift.

But we digress.

The cast and crew of Studious Metsimus aren't eligible to vote for this year's Hall of Fame induction class.  (We were told that it had something to do with the fact that we're not actual writers.)  But we are eligible to submit an opinion as to who we'd like to see immortalized with a plaque in Cooperstown.  Just like the BBWAA, we'll limit our selections to a maximum of ten deserving candidates.  Or nine deserving players and a guy with balls on his face.  Here's our imaginary vote!

Is this the face of a Hall of Famer?  (Photo courtesy of GQ Magazine)

Larry Walker    

The best everyday player to come out of Canada hasn't gotten as much support as he should because of one nagging element - the Coors Field factor.

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

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

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

Larry Walker played 17 years in the major leagues.  However, because of injuries, he only had four seasons in which he played at least 140 games.  From 1994-2005, Walker missed an average of 44 games per season, failing to play more than 103 games in five of those 12 campaigns.  Despite his multiple trips to the disabled list, Walker finished his career with 2,160 hits, including 471 doubles and 383 HR.  He also stole 230 bases, scored 1,355 runs and drove in 1,311.  His combined averages (.313 BA, .400 OBP, .565 SLG) are among the highest career marks of anyone not already in the Hall of Fame, as is his 72.7 bWAR.  And he wasn't just a product of Coors Field.

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

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

Larry Walker waits to see if the tenth time is the charm.  (Vincent Laforet/AllSport)

Curt Schilling

If you thought Larry Walker's 72.7 bWAR was high, you should see Curt Schilling's.  His 79.5 bWAR fully shows how valuable he was to his teams.  And by teams, I'm talking about the Philadelphia Phillies (who won a pennant with Schilling in 1993), the Arizona Diamondbacks (who won their first and only title in 2001 with World Series co-MVP Schilling leading the way) and the Boston Red Sox (who ended an 86-year championship drought with Schilling in 2004 and then repeated the feat three years later in the right-hander's final active season).

Schilling was nearly perfect in the postseason, going 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA, 0.968 WHIP and 120 strikeouts in 19 starts.  As dominant as he was in October, he was just as impressive in the regular season.

Pitching in an era that doesn't require its starters to go deep into games, Schilling recorded 83 complete games and 20 shutouts.  He is also one of only five pitchers in history with 3,000-plus strikeouts and fewer than 1,000 walks.  The other four are Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, Ferguson Jenkins, Pedro Martinez and future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander.  But none of those four pitchers could boast the 4.38 K/BB ratio that Schilling had over his twenty-year career.

It's one thing to lead the league in a major category once.  It's another thing to be a league leader multiple times, which shows a player's consistency and excellence.  So how many different major categories did Schilling lead the league in on more than one occasion?  Well, there's wins (2001, 2004), games started (1997, 1998, 2001), complete games (1996, 1998, 2000, 2001) and innings pitched (1998, 2001).

But wait, there's more!

Schilling also led the league multiple times in strikeouts (1997, 1998), WHIP (1992, 2002) and strikeouts per walk (2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006).

Somehow, Schilling never won a Cy Young Award.  But he was a three-time runner-up and finished fourth in another season.  He also earned MVP votes four times, which is rare for a pitcher in this or any other era.

Curt Schilling has waited long enough to finally have his day in Cooperstown.  That wait should come to an end this year.

 Don't like that I'm voting for Curt Schilling?  Suture self.  (Al Bello/Getty Images)

Scott Rolen

Unlike Walker and Schilling, Scott Rolen never led the league in any category.  Not one major category.  Not one minor category.  Nothing.  But his consistency at the plate and impeccable fielding throughout his career helped him finish his 17-year stay in the majors with a 70.2 bWAR. 

Injuries cost Rolen hundreds of games, as he missed 20 or more contests in a dozen different seasons.  But that didn't stop him from collecting 517 doubles, 316 homers, 1,287 RBI, 1,211 runs scored and 2,077 hits.  He was also the owner of a lifetime .855 OPS and 122 OPS+.

Rolen won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1997 and his eight Gold Gloves at third base were more than anyone not named Brooks Robinson or Mike Schmidt.  The seven-time All-Star also produced in the postseason, helping the Cardinals win their first N.L. pennant in 17 years by batting .310 with a 1.044 OPS in the 2004 NLCS.  Two years later, Rolen was a key contributor in St. Louis' first World Series victory in 24 seasons, hitting .421 with a 1.213 OPS in the Fall Classic.

The injury bug that constantly sidelined Rolen during the second half of his career more than likely kept him from reaching 1,000 extra-base hits and 2,500 total hits, as well as 1,500 runs scored and 1,500 runs batted in.  But that's what WAR is good for.  And because of it, we know that Rolen was invaluable to the teams he played for.

The next team he should be a part of is the one that calls Cooperstown home.

Scott Rolen was booed in Philly as an opposing player.  Or maybe he was booed because he was a person.  (Sporting News)

Although voters are allowed to check off a maximum of ten players on their Hall of Fame ballots, there are only four other players we'd vote for if, you know, we were allowed to vote.

  • Todd Helton:  Like former teammate Larry Walker, Helton's candidacy will be questioned because of the Coors Field factor.  After all, during his best eight-year stretch (1998-2005), Helton averaged 46 doubles, 33 HR, 113 RBI and 114 runs scored, while striking out just 76 times and drawing 96 walks per season.  That's absolutely tremendous.  Wanna know what his average season was like in road games, otherwise known as games not played at Coors Field?  While wearing road grays during those eight seasons, Helton slashed .298/.398/.520 and produced 277 extra-base hits, drove in 347 runs and scored 337 times.  That's an average of 73 extra-base hits, 91 RBI and 89 runs scored per 162 road games.  In other words, still up in the elite hitter stratosphere.  Even with injuries sapping his power in his later years, Helton still managed to finish in the top 100 all-time in home runs, doubles, extra-base hits, hits, RBI and runs scored.  There are over 100 hitters in the Hall of Fame and Helton ranks in the top 100 in many major hitting categories.  And he wasn't just a one-dimensional player, as evidenced by his three Gold Gloves.  You do the math if he belongs in the Hall or not.
  • Jeff Kent:  Kent was more than just his 1970s porn star 'stache.  He was one of the best hitting second basemen of all-time.  For a guy whose career didn't take off until his age-29 season, Kent finished just 16 extra-base hits shy of 1,000.  The pressures of playoff baseball didn't faze him, as Kent posted an identical .500 career slugging percentage in the regular season and postseason.  And let's not forget his eight seasons with 100+ RBI, the 1,518 runs he drove in for his career, his 2000 N.L. MVP Award and the title of all-time leading home run hitter at the second base position.
  • Billy Wagner:  It's a shame Wagner hasn't gotten more recognition, as he was far more dominant than 2018 Hall of Fame inductee Trevor Hoffman and 2019 enshrinee Lee Smith ever were.  Hoffman and Smith got the job done as effectively as any other closer who ever lived.  But Wagner would eat a hitter up and spit him out.  Injuries curtailed Wagner's career, but any pitcher who averaged nearly 12 strikeouts per nine innings, four whiffs per walk and finished his career with a WHIP under 1.00 (Wagner's WHIP was 0.998, which was lower than all-time best closer Mariano Rivera's 1.000 lifetime WHIP) deserves Hall of Fame consideration.  And speaking of Rivera, he held opposing batters to a .211/.262/.295 career slash line.  How did hitters slash against Wagner?  They didn't.  All they could manage was a .187/.262/.296 against the flamethrowing southpaw.  And with all the praise we just heaped on Wagner, we didn't even mention his 422 saves and 2.31 ERA.  Okay, maybe we just did. 
  • Dirk Jitters:  Yes, we're changing the name of the former Yankee shortstop because we don't want anyone to think that we, as Mets fans, believe that he was an all-time great of the game.  On the contrary, he was a liability on defense, as evidenced by his -243.3 defensive runs saved throughout his career.  Jitters also produced a lifetime 115 OPS+.  If that number looks familiar to you, it's because it's the same lifetime OPS+ as the one produced by Lucas Duda.  The however-many-times world champ struck out 1,840 times, which is an enormous amount of whiffs for a player who had over 11,000 plate appearances in the leadoff spot or No. 2 hole, otherwise known as the tablesetting positions in the lineup.  But he's also responsible for getting rid of that eyesore of a home run sculpture in Miami.  That, and that alone, is why he deserves a plaque in Cooperstown.

Those are our seven selections for this year's Hall of Fame class.  Some of them might get voted in.  Some of them might not.  Heck, some of them might even wonder why Jeff Kent's mustache hasn't earned him an honorary AVN Award.  But all of the candidates are worthy of at least being in the Hall of Fame conversation.  Yes, even Dirk Jitters.

So who will actually get the coveted call from the Hall?  The answer will be revealed to all on January 21, or earlier if any Astros players intercept that information.