June 5, 2012

Sorry Karl - This time there ARE words - EMOTIONAL and ECSTASY

By MetsFanSZ

MetsFanSZ

Editor's Note: This post was written by MetsFanSZ. Please direct any comments or feedback to him. - Mike S.

Met fans of our age, mine, Mike's, NostraDennis, and probably Gary Cohen, have many words that go with the occasion of the first REAL no-hitter in Mets history. We remember Karl Erhardt and the signs he held up at Shea. And the best one when Cleon Jones caught Davey Johnson's fly ending the 1969 World Series -- "THERE ARE NO WORDS!"

Today -- there are words.

"Finally" is way too obvious. "Hallelujah", the same!

Many words have been written -- I'm reading as many as I can. MetsBlog, ESPN, The Times, Newsday, The News, The Post. The word that keeps ringing in my head today is emotional. I am so overcome by emotion last night and today. My youngest child graduated from high school last week and I was emotional. I am not that emotional by nature. Today, I am overcome. I keep breaking out crying, I'm so happy.

We have waited so many years for last night's final moment. The swing. The ecstasy. There's another word. Many of us remember Jesse Orosco's glove fling to the heavens in 1986. Fewer remember Cleon bending a knee in thanks to a higher power in 1969.

Another word that comes to my mind is credit. I want to give so much credit to Terry Collins. It was clearly so hard to leave Johan Santana in the game. He made it clear with his words at the press conference after the game. If Johan is hurt or can't pitch the way he has so far this year, it is true that you may have just imperiled the future of the franchise.

But today is a day of celebration - another word. So many things - the St. Louis newspaper that ran the headline"No-Hitter" and put an asterisk next to it. Two words come to my mind in response - the two I don't say out loud in public. I couldn't hear what Adrian Johnson was saying to Jose Oquendo or Mike Matheny, but give him credit. He had to be saying, "Right or wrong, I called it as I saw it and whether the ball was fair or foul, it's foul because I called it foul". And forever it will be officially foul, fair or not. And as Howard Cosell used to say, that's the way it is.

Give credit to Johnson too, for not throwing either of them out of the game and for listening to them, and then telling them to get back in the coaching box and get back in the dugout.

Give Baxter credit for the catch and the crash, and for being one of us, a kid who grew up on Long Island or in Queens and rooted for the Mets. No matter what kind of career he has, we'll always root for him. He'll be linked to people like Endy Chavez and Ron Swoboda for unbelievable catches that will forever live in Mets lore.

I give credit to Carlos Beltran, too, for having the sense to say one hit more or less wouldn't have been the difference and they needed more. Beltran was a great Met, providing a lot of good years, a number of great moments, when he was healthy. He's a class guy and deserved a good hand when he came up to bat.

Ironic is another word that comes to mind. The irony of Oquendo being the coach arguing about Beltran's liner. Oquendo was a fantastic fielding shortstop - I always believed he could have been a better fielder than Ozzie Smith. He never learned to hit enough, as Ozzie did, and while he had a good career, he's had more time as a coach. And the irony of Beltran hitting the ball that could have been the hit. Or Yadier Molina hitting the ball that Baxter caught.

How about that Philip Humber, who was traded for Santana, becoming the 7th ex-Met to throw a no-hitter before the Mets got one? Or Nolan Ryan, throwing 7 no-hitters after leaving the Mets? Irony?

Give some credit to Josh Thole, too, coming off the disabled list and catching a no-hitter.

Mets fans live and die with our team. Not the front runners who show up when the team is in first or wins the division. I was at Shea Stadium for a game in September 1985 when Dwight Gooden beat the Cubs. Keith Moreland hit a slow roller in the fifth inning that Ray Knight bobbled and could have picked up and thrown out the lumbering Moreland. He didn't and for years, I swore I would deck the official scorer who scored it a hit instead of an error. I've heard Rick Sutcliffe agree on-air that that should have been a no-hitter.

After leaving New York for Florida, I could only dream of at the very least seeing the no-hitter, when it happened, finally, on television. I hoped, I prayed, I would sit and not move until the first hit happened in any game that a few hitless innings would be strung together. Today is like a DREAM. The other words that come to mind - CLASS and LEADERSHIP. What unbelievable class Johan Santana shows. Consistently, constantly. A part of OUR team. Could any of us be happier for him? Seaver getting it with the Mets would have been incredible. Same with Gooden. Santana is a perfect choice. Now, with the albatross slain, perhaps Dickey could get a no-hitter. Or even Niese.

The leadership shown by Santana and Wright on this club has been fantastic. The roles played by the bench and players we never expected to even be in the majors have been fabulous. Alderson and Collins deserve some credit, too. Johan said last night that he knows how much this means to New York, to the New York Mets, and probably he meant to include us, the fans. What it means to us, how it feels, CANNOT be put into words. Maybe Mike Baxter can understand. So few moments in Mets history come close.

Congratulations, Johan. Thank you, Terry Collins, for having the guts to let Santana finish it. Congratulations Mets on finally, finally, killing the albatross. I will miss NoNoHitters, a wonderful website. I know they aren't Padre fans. Maybe they'll cede the website to them.

While watching Saturday's game, Beltran doubled off R.A. Dickey. Let the new streak begin.

To all of us REAL live-and-die-with-our-team Mets FANS, I say, CONGRATULATIONS! Cry, laugh, smile, celebrate. Thank you, Johan. For a glorious moment that will live forever in all of us.



April 5, 2012

And So It Begins...

By Dave Mills

Dave Mills

It happens but once a year... Opening Day for the Mets and their die-hard fannies.

Today, things get real and exciting. Hot Stove and Spring Training are behind us and the 162-game grind begins.

For Terry Collins' band of bargain basement finds, retreads, prospects and three stars (who have lost some luster), the slate is clean and everything starts anew.

After closely watching every machination of 50 different Mets teams between my 7th and 57th year on this planet, 2012 promises to be one of the most intriguing.

HITTERS
Being the guy that sees the glass as half full, I can't recall the Mets ever having four exciting left-handed hitters in their mid-20s, all of whom have the ability to go the opposite way with some pop and circumstance.

Of course, I speak of Daniel Murphy, Ike Davis, Lucas Duda and Josh Thole, all of whom can make this a memorable season if they play up to expectations and avoid the DL. These four represent the future of the Mets from a number of perspectives.

Murphy -- a Keith Hernandez-style, top-half-of-the-ball hitter, who specializes in raking to all field -- may be the best pure hitter to have ever donned a Mets uniform when all is said and done. This guy is a deft batsman. Problem is... he is a corner infielder playing an important up-the-middle position. To his credit, his fielding lapses do not seem to affect his stroke except that said lapses have led to considerable time on the DL. But truth be told, Murph is a gamer who put significant time in at three positions last season. Nothing easy about that hat trick, so some slack needs to be cut. His athleticism is impressive, as is his attitude. Daniel Murphy will be exciting to watch even with a few cringes as he fields his position at 2B.

Thole is in the same mold as Murph. In 2008, the Mets saw something and decided to put Josh behind the dish. The transition has certainly not been smooth as silk. And just when it appeared that he was getting his bearings, the front office brought in a knuckleballer to keep things dicey. Nonetheless, Thole has worked diligently to improve his defensive skills and keep his hitting sharp. He doesn't strike out and will always deliver a much higher OBP than casual observers realize. The Mets have a solid left-handed hitting receiver, who will surprise many with a breakout season.

The loss of Ike Davis last season was the single most devastating injury suffered to an everyday Mets player for a couple of reasons. Davis supplies pop and saves runs with his outstanding defense at the first sack. He also has the aura of a masher, which is critical to keeping opposing hurlers off-balance. Here's something to think about... If Davis stays healthy and only hits .250 with 25 HR and 80 RBI, the Mets are winners. Many think he will be much better in all departments. Everyone knows Ike will have his share of strikeouts. He will also save 20 runs and 20 errors.

Duda may have the biggest upside among the quartet of left-handed swingers. He makes contact, hits with power and can pull the inside pitch, as well as take it to the opposite field with authority. While he won't remind us of Clemente with his glove, he will likely be better than expected and display a reasonably good arm. Perhaps the Mets would have a more impressive lineup with Duda batting third behind Murphy, since he is not the lumberer on the basepaths that his size seems to indicate. More importantly, he and Murph can hit southpaws. Lucas is a central figure in the Mets future.

The right-handed bats -- David Wright, Jason Bay and Ruben Tejada -- are far more of a conundrum for Terry Collins and Sandy Alderson.

While the lefty bats will benefit from the improved parameters of Citi Field, the right-handed contingent, which includes Hairston, Turner and Nickeas, should find it far more beneficial for a variety of reasons.

Wright must cutdown on his strikeouts and be the player he was until Citi Field opened. David is a gamer, exemplified by his playing with a fractured back last season. He needs to focus on driving the ball and getting on base, so his speed can come into play. The new dimensions will help with the power.

Bay is an enigma. When he signed, I spoke of another George Foster, but that was unfair to George. Bay plays better defense and runs the bases quite well, which were both somewhat unexpected. If he keeps struggling at the dish, however, Collins will platoon him with Mike Baxter by the middle of May, which might not be bad. If Jason produces, it will be a boon to the Mets and everyone in the lineup.

Like all the young prospects, Tejada is a product of the Minaya administration, and a good one. The improvement he displayed as a hitter last season was stunning, to say the least. His bat control and patience improved radically over his previous two campaigns. If Ruben can eventually hit in the two hole behind a productive Torres or Valdespin, and in front of Murphy and Duda, he will see some high-quality pitches to rake. Expect better defense from Tejada than anyone can imagine.

The lone switch-hitter on the Mets roster is Andres Torres, who also needs to produce for the Mets to have a successful 2012. Torres can play CF and run the bases with considerable aplomb, but can he get to first base? If not, the Mets will likely go quickly to Valdespin, who has impressed the powers-that-be with a wealth of talent and speed.

As for the bench... if they play a lot, it will portend disaster for the 2012 Mets. Not because they are terrible, but because injuries will demand their appearance. Cedeno, Turner, Hairston, Baxter and Nickeas provide better than adequate defense and adequate offensive support. Cedeno, Turner and Baxter also have a touch of speed in their games.

For a change, the Mets will go into a campaign in relatively good health. The same cannot be said for the Phillies (Utlley, Howard, Polanco, Contreras and Michael Martinez), Braves (Hudson, Fish, Vizcaino, Moylan, Jurrjens and Chipper), Nationals (Storen, Wang, Morse, Kimball and Ankiel) and Marlins (Ceda, Stanton, Morrison). If the injuries persist for others and the Mets starters play, this can certainly be an intriguing season with no sure winner.

We'll take a look at the Amazin's pitching staff in the next edition.

***********************************************************

NL EAST

PHILLIES
Overrated and over-the-hill. Injuries and age conspiring against the best starting staff in MLB. Defense and bullpen is their weakness. But their starters may keep them in the driver's seat.

METS
Four solid left-handed hitters. Questionable bats in LF and CF. New Citi Field dimensions will help the lineup and prove challenging to the pitching staff. An overall plus for Mets. Decent starters providing Santana makes 25 starts. Bullpen should be much improved. Should be. Will make up for loss of Reyes, by good on-base percentage, more hit-and-run and a very aggressive style of play.

MARLINS
An injury to Reyes or Stanton will be devastating. Hurlers questionable after Josh Johnson. Bullpen not up to championship standards. Park may play tough for their hitters, except those with speed and make a defensively challenged outfield even worse.

BRAVES
Way overrated and injuries piling up. Freddie Freeman is the player to watch. Keeping Michael Bourne off the bases is the key. Great bullpen. Questionable defense.

NATIONALS
A strange team with lots of prospects, a few old hands and a rash of early injuries. Still a few years from a dominating lineup. A healthy Zimmerman and Morse are key, along with Strasburg, Gonzales and the other Zimmerman -- a formidable trio. Worth not worth it.

About Dave: Dave Mills, born in Kew Gardens, Queens, the day after Willie Mays' circus catch in the 1954 World Series, is a devout Met fan since 1962. The first game he attended was Mets v. Reds at the Polo Grounds on September 14, 1962. With the game tied 9-9 in the 9th, Choo Choo ("Bub") Coleman hit a game-winning walkoff HR down the rightfield line on to the tin roof. The sound is indelibly etched in his memory! Dave lives on Oahu, where he markets and writes about golf. His company, HawaiiGolfDeals.com is the leading deliverer of golfers to the Aloha State. His take on Golf in Australia is in the Oct/Nov issue of Fairways & Greens Magazine.

March 19, 2012

Some Perspective in the Wake of the Settlement

By Dave Mills

Dave Mills

Editor's Note: I'd like to welcome contributing writer Dave Mills back to the blog. Please direct any comments or feedback to him. - Mike S.

In the wake of the settlement of the Picard v Wilpon/Katz/Sterling clawback lawsuit, it is imperative that all of us take a deep breath, simplify the scenarios and try to eliminate our personal feelings.

Trustee Irving Picard and his associates played poker and weren't willing to go "all in." Why? Their case was just not strong enough.

The Wilpon defendants analyzed the situation, sat back and played their hand expertly.

It is assumed that the ace-in-the-hole for Picard was the testimony of former Sterling employee Noreen Harrington. However, Ms. Harrington, at the time she advised Sterling, had suspicions and not evidence. Wilpon and Katz may have not heeded her warnings, but that still does not amount to "willful blindness."

Loyalty has gotten us all in trouble here and there, but it still remains a valuable asset in our dealings with others. Take a look around and then compile an inventory of those you are loyal to and those who are loyal to you. Would you walk away from those relationships on mere suspicion? Of course not. In fact, in the face of mere suspicion, most of us would tend to step forward and defend the friends and associates to whom we are loyal.

Once in a great while, such suspicions turn out to be true and we find some way to mitigate, mollify, remediate or walk away from those we were previously loyal to. Unfortunately, we have all dealt with a rogue or two.

The overwhelming argument for the Wilpon group was the incredible malfeasance of the Securities and Exchange Commission. If the SEC, and their huge government funded staff of investigators, lawyers, accountants and financial experts never figured it out, how were Fred and Saul to know? Consistent with the behavior of many predators, Bernie Madoff even befriended Fred and Saul, so perhaps they can be accused of "blind loyalty."

Madoff accommodated Mets ownership by providing large sums from the bogus investment pool when they needed large sums. The paper profits also bolstered their loan portfolios and created leverage for borrowing, from which they most certainly benefited. Madoff strung them along and played them to the hilt. He even bought a luxury suite at Shea year in and year out.

When Sterling looked for financing to build Citi Field and other real estate ventures, they most certainly listed their Madoff investments as assets. Did any of the lenders in their pursuit of due diligence send up a red flag? Are they being held accountable in any way? Of course not.

And lets face it, no matter how much any fan may fault or even deplore Mets ownership, why would Fred and Saul have put so many of their friends, relatives and business associates in a Ponzi scheme they knew about? Sandy Koufax lost most of his life savings, but remains loyal to Fred and was willing to testify in his behalf. This was testimony Picard's office was trying desperately to suppress. Nonetheless, the Koufax testimony would have likely been heard and it would have certainly inured to the benefit of Wilpon. Contrary to Picard's assertions, the jury would not have been star-struck by Koufax, since baseball fans would likely have been left off the jury and Koufax last pitched over 45 years ago. Instead, they would have related to the loyalty between friends and come to the conclusion that Wilpon would never have put a dear friend in the position to lose his life savings if he was even remotely suspicious of the Madoff wrongdoings.

I have a friend who is convinced that Fred and Saul had to know. Listen to sports radio and you'll discover he is not alone. As much as I have some issues with the Wilpon/Katz ownership of the Mets, there is no way these fellows would have risked their reputations, their families, their associates, their businesses and their fortunes if they had any knowledge of the Madoff scam. And there is absolutely no evidence to show that they knew anything, which is exactly why Picard did not, and could not, go "all in."

So, why were smart guys like Fred and Saul in such an untenable position?

A relative of mine (now deceased), who was a very sophisticated and successful businessman as well as a humanitarian, put 92% of his assets with Madoff. What amazed me about my relative's investment with Bernie was not that he had invested, but he had pretty much put all his eggs in one basket, something he never would have advised me and others to do. In this case, as with most of the others and the Wilpon-related investors, greed reared its ugly head. The old saying -- "if it seems too good to be true, it probably is" (and its various permutations) -- was probably never more applicable.

All of us are susceptible to greed. Fred, Saul and my relative were no different. However, all of these gentlemen gave generously to charities and causes. The Mets and SNY do remarkable community outreach. By all accounts, Fred and Saul are very decent people. They made a mistake which they will take to their graves. It is time to cut these guys some slack, stop the vitriol and remember that their potentially recoverable losses (stated at $176 million) will likely exceed the $160 million of the so-called realized profits they have agreed to pay back to the trustee over the next five years (in year 4 and 5). That means they too were victims, no matter what some disgruntled individuals think or say.

Some say the result of this case is good for Mets ownership and OK for the Trustee Picard. I think the result is sustainable. Nobody really wins. In the end, the trustee has increased the recovery pool that is in far better condition than most observers predicted. A couple of years ago, it was speculated that Madoff investors could expect to recover about 25ยข on the dollar. At this point, it could easily be three times that much. Some even say it could be over 90% restitution. I am not sure what lesson that would teach anyone about greed, but Picard may well have done a commendable service to the victims.

For Wilpon and Katz, it is time to move forward and deliver a quality baseball product to those of us who have shown intense loyalty to the Mets. It appears they are on the right track with Alderson and Company. Staying away from the ballpark is not the answer. Sandy Koufax had every reason to be angry with his friend, but he chose to stand with him and proclaim his friend's decency. Who are we to claim otherwise?

About Dave: Dave Mills, born in Kew Gardens, Queens, the day after Willie Mays' circus catch in the 1954 World Series, is a devout Met fan since 1962. The first game he attended was Mets v. Reds at the Polo Grounds on September 14, 1962. With the game tied 9-9 in the 9th, Choo Choo ("Bub") Coleman hit a game-winning walkoff HR down the rightfield line on to the tin roof. The sound is indelibly etched in his memory! Dave lives on Oahu, where he markets and writes about golf. His company, HawaiiGolfDeals.com is the leading deliverer of golfers to the Aloha State. His take on Golf in Australia is in the Oct/Nov issue of Fairways & Greens Magazine.

March 16, 2012

SHEA MEMORIES: My Greatest Glorious Moment at Shea

By MetsFanSZ

MetsFanSZ

Editor's Note: I'd like to welcome contributing writer MetsFanSZ back to the blog. Please direct any comments or feedback to him. - Mike S.

Going to baseball games at Shea Stadium growing up, I saw many foul balls fly into the stands. We all saw fans with baseball gloves, bare hands, hats, beer cups, and whatever else they had reach for that ball, whether a screaming liner, a spinning pop, or a sharp carom off the concrete. Their chance would come, and hit those gloves or hands or whatever, and spin out and land on the ground, and a dozen people would swarm in, grabbing, grasping, groping, and one lucky strong person would wrench it out. And you knew, you KNEW - that fan had their chance, and they blew it.

I always believed that one day I'd get my chance. I don't know if I ever dared to say it out loud, but inside, certainly, I always swore to myself: one day I'd get my chance, MY chance, and I wouldn't blow it.

I had a friend in high school, Larry. Larry was one of those guys who just did what he wanted to do. He had an uncanny knack of deciding to do something on the spot, and then going and doing it. I was always one of those kids that had to plan everything, schedule things. My dad was one of those guys that leaned on the horn when he was ready to leave and the rest of the family wasn't ready. So I became a planner and could never do anything impulsively.

I had tickets to a doubleheader early in the season at Shea, back when they still scheduled doubleheaders and they weren't only for rain make-ups. The irony was, despite being a live-and-die Met fan, these tickets were for the Yankees. Yankee Stadium - not the current one - was being gutted and rebuilt, and for two years the Yankees were going to be playing at Shea. I thought it might be a novelty to see what it was like to see the Yankees play at Shea.

I got the tickets and I didn't think Larry ever went to baseball games, so I invited him. It was the mid-70s, and the Mets had made it to the 7th game of the World Series the year before, so their tickets were hard to come by. The Yankees were terrible in those days, just after Steinbrenner had bought the team, so it was easy to get their tickets, especially early in the season, and the Baltimore Orioles were in town.

I don't remember where we sat for the first game, or even who won. Probably loge reserves, because those were generally my seats of choice. You could purchase upper deck seats, sit somewhere in the loge, and if someone came for the seats, you'd simply move. Ushers would be helping people to their seats, so you could usually find a few empty seats when they didn't notice.

The first game of the doubleheader ended, and there was something like a half an hour or 40 minutes between games while the players killed time in the locker room and the grounds crew cleaned up the field. Larry and I decided to get high - literally. For fun, we decided - impulsively - to head up to the upper deck and go to the very top row. I hadn't gone up there in years, and you really felt like you were halfway to outer space at the top of the stadium. There was a gorgeous view of the New York City skyline on the first base side.

We got to the top row and admired the view. There weren't too many people up there. We hung around for a little while and then - FATE struck. My good friend Larry, my impulsive buddy, declared: "I want to get a foul ball." I said, yeah, sure Larry, right. But Larry grew insistent, so I said, "Fine. Let's go sit in the best spot in the stadium to get foul balls. Okay?" What the heck. May as well take a shot, right?

So I told Larry we'd see if we could go behind home plate in the loge, just above the screen, as plenty of foul balls headed straight back over the screen into those seats. Larry was placated and we headed downstairs for the start of game two.

We reached the loge behind home plate just as game 2 started. In those days, ushers would be around to chase kids from seats, especially right behind home plate. But being a Yankee game, with so few people there, and game two of a doubleheader, most of the ushers had headed home.

With so many empty seats, I picked one directly behind the screen, right behind home plate, in the reserves, about the third row behind the main aisle, so that people walking in the aisle wouldn't be too much of a distraction. I took the second seat off the ramp railing and turned around - No Larry. Larry stayed behind, standing on the ramp. He wanted to be ready. Because we were right behind home, there were a few other people hanging around, standing on the ramp.

I said "Larry, come on." The row in front of us was mostly empty, the row behind us was mostly empty and several seats to my right were empty as well. I said we'll be able to move fast enough if a foul ball came our way. But Larry was obstinate, and insisted on staying on the ramp.

In the bottom of FIRST inning - THE FIRST INNING - Jim Mason, the Yankee shortstop, came up to bat. Bang - foul ball, straight back. Right down the ramp. I was in SHOCK!!! I couldn't believe it! I went over to the railing and looked - two small kids were running after it, one tripped over the other and they both went down. Some guy in a blue sweatshirt burst past them as the ball caromed out of sight. While there were people walking around under the stands, going to concessions or rest rooms, I surmised that none of them would have reacted fast enough and the guy in the blue sweatshirt probably got the ball.

About 20 second later, my friend Larry comes back - in his blue sweatshirt - and HANDS me the baseball. I hadn't even realized it was him, wearing the blue sweatshirt. It happened so fast. Larry, who always decided to do something and just did it, had decided to get a foul ball and HE DID IT! I was beyond ecstatic, elated for Larry, astounded at his success, inspired by his determination. They guy just always did what he wanted to do and succeeded.

A great story, right? For some reason, probably fate, I had brought my glove with me that day. I was too old to carry it by then, but I had brought it anyway. So now I had my glove on, and the ball Larry got was in my hand. My bare hand.

In the TOP of the SECOND inning, Elrod Hendricks, the Oriole catcher, came to bat. Guess what. Not hard to guess, right? Foul ball. STRAIGHT back. Everyone in the area stands up, including me. TIME FROZE. My brain is screaming, this is coming to me, THIS IS COMING TO ME!! It wasn't a screaming liner, it wasn't a spinning pop up! It was a lazy little floater.

I reached into the seat to my right with my glove on my left hand, backhanded. I felt the ball hit my glove. AND STICK IN MY GLOVE.

My mind raced. I froze. It seemed like ten seconds - it could have been two. I KNEW I got my chance. AND I KNEW I didn't blow it. I KNEW it. The people around me were poised to pounce, had I made even the slightest move to pick up the ball. I didn't. I turned to Larry, who had moved from the ramp when THIS foul came back and was now standing right next to me. I showed him the ball in my glove while I held his in my hand.

And I SCREAMED! MY chance had come and I didn't blow it. And Larry, who had gotten his foul ball barely a few minutes earlier, gave me my glorious moment at Shea. A lifetime dream come true. The crowd around gave me a pretty good hand for what really was a pretty easy catch.

Before that and since, I had many moments of glory at Shea - getting kicked out of the stadium and sneaking back in, extra-inning game-winning home runs, Darryl Strawberry's first game in the major leagues, Opening Day wins and losses, sneaking into the clubhouse twice and getting kicked out by Jerry Koosman both times. But the memory that stands out the most was getting MY chance at a foul ball, and NOT blowing it. THANK YOU, Larry, wherever you are.



March 15, 2012

Touching Second

By Mike Steffanos

Mike Steffanos

We'll get back to our "Things I Hope to See in 2012" series next time out, but I wanted to take a moment and share a few more thoughts on the second base job that I touched on in part one.

I have a lot of respect for the job that Justin Turner did after being called up last season, but I'm a little surprised that he is seen by many as more than a stopgap solution for the position.

He made a big impression driving in a bunch of runs in May and June last year, but his batting line on the season was .260/.334/.356 and his defense was just adequate -- actually a touch below if you believe advanced fielding stats. I might be missing something, but my impression on Turner's first season with the Mets was of a guy who held his own but hardly looks like a future star.

Even Turner's impressive RBI totals fell quite abruptly as the season wore on. He drove in 33 runs in just over 200 AB through the end of June but only 18 in almost 280 AB the rest of the way. He looked to me like a kid who came up and had a hot couple of months before coming back to earth. He turned 27 in November so he's no kid. I just don't can't buy into the Turner mania.

If Daniel Murphy can hit close to his career major league numbers (.292/.343/.441) at second base he would be well above average offensively for a second baseman. It's worth rolling the dice to see if he can learn to make the basic plays and protect himself on double play turns.

As for Justin Turner, I think he has to get his offensive numbers up just to have a career as a major league utility guy. He was a nice story last year and I'll certainly root for him. I think he's a useful player, but I'd be surprised if he ever turned out to be anything more than that.

For updates on new posts to this blog you can now follow me on twitter @MikeSteffanos

If you are just finding this blog again and wondering why I was gone for so long and what the plan is going forward, read this.

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.


March 13, 2012

Things I Hope to See in 2012, Part 1

By Mike Steffanos

Mike Steffanos

I spent some time this weekend trying do something I've done just about every spring since I started this blog -- write some sort of preview of the upcoming season. I finally gave up on it after wasting more time than I care to admit.

Back in years when I thought the Mets had a real chance of contending that type of piece seemed to make more sense. I don't think that's going to happen this year. Realistically, they're probably more likely to achieve 90 losses than 90 wins. While I can imagine a plausible "dream season" scenario where everything goes right and they make the playoffs, I think the odds of that happening are small.

2012 seems very likely to be a season where incremental steps are taken towards a brighter future. Given that, it seems more appropriate to talk about what I'd like to see happen over this course of the upcoming campaign. I'll also write this in installments all week rather than posting one long monster piece.

Okay, so let's get it started. Finger crossed, knocking wood, here's my first wish for the upcoming season.

Full Seasons from Murphy, Duda and Davis
Okay, so I fudged a bit lumping three guys together, but these young position players have a chance to be important cogs in the next great Mets lineup down the road.

Everyone seems to be pretty high on Ike Davis' chances to be an important part of the next great Mets lineup for that future contender. I like Ike as much as the next guy, but I need more than 652 lifetime AB before I'm ready to totally buy into him.

He looked really great last year, but only played in 36 games. I've seen too many Mets over the past four decades look really great out of the gate only to see the league catch up to them. Among other things, Ike has to prove he can hit lefty pitching. Even last year when he streaked out of the gate Ike only managed to hit .163/.260/.233 against southpaws in a small sample size. I think we'll all know better what type of player Ike Davis really is if he can stay on the field all year.

As for Lucas Duda, he obviously possesses an even shorter track record in the bigs. I really like him -- in fact I think he will ultimately put up better numbers than Ike, but he also probably is a bigger risk to flame out. He has a nice approach at the plate in keeping with the improved hitting philosophy in the whole organization.

The biggest question for me about Duda in 2012 is whether he can get his defense to a level where he's not a total liability. If he can continue to hit with power and can get his defense to just a little below average he might prove to be a real find. The only way we'll really know is if Terry Collins can run him out their everyday.

For Daniel Murphy, my hopes are not only for a healthy season but also for one in which he can play second base with regularity. Even if the Mets see Murphy's ultimate future as some sort of super-utility player he would still be much more valuable if he can play second base. It's the only spot on the field where he would provide above average offense for the position.

Terry Collins has already committed to trying to leave Duda in RF to master the position, but has speculated that he might move Murphy to 1B or 3B if Ike Davis or David Wright misses any real time.

That seems short sighted to me. I get that the Mets would be stronger in the field with Murphy at first or third and Justin Turner at second, but in a season where they are longshots to even contend I just think it would be more valuable to finally determine if Murphy can learn to be competent at second base. The only way to really find out is to run him out there every day.

If it turns out Murphy is not capable of playing second, that's fine. The one thing that wouldn't be acceptable at all is if we're sitting here a year down the road still wondering if he can do it. There's no reason at all not to answer that question definitively this season.

Back with part two mañana.

For updates on new posts to this blog you can now follow me on twitter @MikeSteffanos

If you are just finding this blog again and wondering why I was gone for so long and what the plan is going forward, read this.

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.


March 7, 2012

Those Small Market Mets

By Mike Steffanos

Mike Steffanos

I wanted to do a quick follow up to yesterday's post.

I understand that Scot Boras is a controversial guy, and that he very much had ulterior motives in suggesting that large market clubs have a responsibility to spend at a reasonable level to put a decent product on the field. I don't think that invalidates the points he was making.

Again, I understand that the Mets cannot continue to be an inefficient operation that bleeds money now that the Madoff spigot had been turned off. Still, I'm concerned with where things are going.

First we heard that the payroll would be going down to $110 million, then it became $100 million, and now it's more like $90 million. And there really hasn't been any indication that we've hit bottom.

Instead, we get to be bombarded constantly with David Wright trade rumors because keeping even one homegrown star player is somehow a luxury despite the fact this club plays in the largest of the large markets in this country.

If the Mets have an unsuccessful season in 2012, which certainly seems a good possibility given the strength of the division and the weakness and lack of depth of this roster, it seems likely they will lose money again. Does that mean we could look forward to a $70 million payroll next season as we wait for Jason Bay's and Johan Santana's contracts to expire? Who but the diehards will pay to see that?

Maybe this would even make sense if you could just load up on draft picks, sign a bunch of guys to over slot contracts and spend freely in the international market to push a huge infusion of talent into the farm system. Unfortunately, the changes in the new collective bargaining agreement severely penalize teams for doing that to the point where that route to building a system seems closed.

Beyond that, though, I wonder if ownership's financial problems continue if there won't be scrimping and penny-pinching in ways that are much less obvious but detrimental to the long-term health of the franchise. Given that you can't just spend your way into a productive farm system anymore, I suspect that such areas as scouting and development will be even more crucial. Can a club that needs to send its employees out with shopping carts collecting returnable bottles in order to make their loan payments really be counted on to invest in those areas that aren't all that visible to the fans?

New York isn't a small city with limited entertainment choices, and this team will continue to lose money if they don't field a compelling product. Sandy Alderson and company still have a lot of work to do, and constant questions about the solvency of ownership aren't going to make it happen any faster.

The Mets need to spend more wisely going forward, but they will still have to spend. If the Mets hope to stop bleeding revenue they will need to invest in the product they put on the field. I just don't have any faith in that happening any time soon.

Next time we'll talk some on the field baseball.

For updates on new posts to this blog you can now follow me on twitter @MikeSteffanos

If you are just finding this blog again and wondering why I was gone for so long and what the plan is going forward, read this.

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.


March 6, 2012

The Elephant in the Room

By Mike Steffanos

Mike Steffanos

It's been months since I've been able to post regularly to this blog for reasons I talked about in yesterday's post. Back in the spring and early summer of 2011 the big story that dominated all Mets conversation was the financial situation of Mets ownership.

Fast forward almost a year later and the sad truth is that the Wilpon's finances still overshadow all of the baseball story lines, maybe even more than last year. Mets fans had to watch a great home-grown talent like Jose Reyes sign with a division rival for a contract that should have been quite reasonable for a large market team even as the club slashed payroll by an incredible 50 million dollars.

There's no doubt that the Mets have been an incredibly inefficient operation for most of the last couple of decades to their own detriment and the detriment of Mets fans. It appears to me that ownership was so willing to blindly get hooked on the Madoff crack because that was the only way they were able to sustain such a bungling and unproductive business model for so long.

From what I've been reading it seems as if there is certainly reason to believe the ultimate cost of the Madoff case will be small enough for the Wilpon family to survive and continue to own the club. I certainly can't blame them for wanting to hold on -- if I was in their shoes I'm sure that I would feel the same. For all of their faults I have no doubts that they love this team.

On the other hand, there's no doubt that the Wilpons have done a tremendous amount of damage to the credibility and reputation of this franchise and their ability to lead it going forward. I like and respect what Sandy Alderson is doing in trying to reverse years of questionable management, but you can only get so far shopping for players in the bargain aisle.

I have no personal enmity towards the Wilpons, but it's gotten to the point where the news that they were selling the club would come as a great relief. At the very least they need to show fans that they are going to be willing and able to spend a reasonable amount of money to build a winner again. It won't happen this year and is unlikely to happen next, but we shouldn't be talking a five-year plan for a team that has such potential resources.

Scott Boras, of all people, called the Wilpons on the extreme cost-cutting of the past off-season. Although he obviously has his own agenda here his words ring true nonetheless. I agree with everything he said, particularly his conclusion:

"...there has to be an equation where there are requirements for ownership to perform at certain levels, and if they don't, they would lose their right to own a club and be replaced. I believe if we do that, we're going to have a better game. ... When you're seeing franchises in major markets not pursuing to the levels that the revenues and the fan base and the market provide, then I think you have an ethical violation of the game."

Again, while there is no doubt that there needed to be a more balanced and logical approach to the way money is spent by this franchise, there has to be a belief that ownership is willing and able to commit the resources to build a winner here. If the year ahead features a new fire sale followed by another off-season of penury then I believe the Wilpons will completely lose any remaining support among the fans.

As a Mets fan I sincerely long for a time -- hopefully not too far in the future -- when the financial situation of ownership takes a back seat to discussions about hot prospects and coveted free agents. Major League Baseball cannot sit back if the financial foibles of the Wilpon family continues to be the lead story of this franchise.

If you are just finding this blog again and wondering why I was gone for so long and what the plan is going forward, read this.

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.


March 5, 2012

New Beginnings

By Mike Steffanos

Mike Steffanos

I want to apologize for another long absence from this blog. I know I indicated in November that I expected to be posting again soon.

At that point I had managed to obtain a placement for my mom in a nursing home nearby and assumed that after three years of dealing with all sorts of matters related to her health and finances that thing would get a lot easier. Unfortunately, Mom managed to toss me one more curveball when she was sent to the hospital and diagnosed with virtually untreatable cancer.

She was placed under hospice care, given drugs to make her as comfortable as possible and wasn't expected to live much longer at all. I tried to spend some time with her every day and figured I'd get back to my plans to write again after she passed.

December turned to January, then February and now March. Mom doesn't really know who I am anymore, doesn't even talk all that much, and mostly my visits involve me reading a book or listening to a baseball podcast on my mp3 player while she sleeps fitfully.

Still, Mom is as stubborn as always and, having already lasted twice as long as was expected, is showing no inclination to leave this world on any other timetable than her own. Since Mets baseball was one of the few things we truly had in common in an otherwise difficult relationship I figured Mom wouldn't mind if I got back to writing on the subject again.

I fully intend to post regularly again this year. Other than issues with my Mom, the other big impediment to regular blogging has been a rather murky and tenuous employment situation. Let's just say that it's no fun to be 50-something and job hunting in this economy.

I was able to find enough things to do to keep my head above water, if just barely, but there wasn't much free time and when there was I wasn't always in the mood to write about baseball. In the past couple of months a decent opportunity has come up and (knock wood) I might be out of the woods finally.

I have no illusions that this will be a great season to be a Mets fan, but I think it will be a fun season to write about them. I'm really looking forward to it.

I'll be posting some articles about various issues this week -- some Mets stuff, some general baseball. If you subscribe to this site's feed you will be notified of new postings. I have also started a twitter account, mostly to follow others but will also post links to new content there. You'll find me @MikeSteffanos.

I'm working on my first baseball post right now and will have it up later today.

If you are just finding this blog again and wondering why I was gone for so long and what the plan is going forward, read this.

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.


October 31, 2011

Greetings from the Frozen North

By Mike Steffanos

Mike Steffanos

As tough as winters can be where I live in Connecticut at times, I've often consoled myself that it could be worse. At least the worse that winter has to offer is usually confined to December, January and February.

This year mother nature decided to throw us a curve in the form of a huge October snowstorm, and the resulting ongoing power outages have delayed my intended post-World Series plan to return to blogging about the Mets.

They say the power can remain out here for a week or longer, and right now CL&P, our local electric utility, is unwilling to even commit to estimates as to when power may be restored. So, while I can't say when exactly, I do expect to be posting again as soon as the light come back on.

In the meantime, stay warm and well. Talk to you soon.

If you are just finding this blog again and wondering why I was gone for so long and what the plan is going forward, read this.

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.


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