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Lessons from Another Sport, Part 2

Mike SteffanosFriday, February 8, 2008
By Mike Steffanos

[Part 1]

The Giants Super Bowl victory over the Patriots this past Sunday reminded me of some basic truths that also applied to baseball and being a Mets fan. In Part 1, we talked a little about the dangers of buying into the myth of inevitability. I've come to the conclusion in life that there is no one single thing that is as likely to make your life as a fan more miserable than buying into that one.

There was another parallel that occurred to me while enjoying the Giants victory. While watching Eli Manning manufacture yet another fourth quarter comeback, I couldn't help but think how unfairly both Giants fans and some in the media (who presumably should have known better) were in their rush to judgment of the young Giants quarterback. Sure, he's been pretty erratic at times over the past few seasons, but we weren't exactly talking about an established veteran quarterback who had little chance of improving. It certainly wasn't a sure thing that Eli would be a very good NFL quarterback, but listening to some of those folks would have convinced you that there was no chance that Manning was anything more than a poor imitation of his older brother.

As we all know now, Eli Manning now has what only Phil Simms had obtained as a New York Giants quarterback -- both a Super Bowl win and an MVP trophy to go along with it. Come to think of it, folks were awfully down on Simms once upon a time, too.

The problem is that we as fans tend to have little patience anymore, and the media feeds right into that. Yet for every story about a kid who has stepped in and achieved instant success, there are 10 Eli Mannings who needed some time wandering in the wilderness to find themselves. Some never do, of course, but for the ones that do there comes a breakthrough where the game slows down and their talent is able to shine through.

I find myself somewhat dumbfounded when there are so many folks willing to declare a talented kid like Mike Pelfrey a complete bust based on two whole years of pro experience. While I wouldn't argue that he's any type of "sure thing", many of his struggles can be attributed to being rushed into major league action when he should have been developing those secondary pitches in the minors. Yet we saw some glimpses of a guy last September, particularly in that big game against Atlanta, who can be an effective major league pitcher.

If the Mets weren't so thin in their starting pitching the last couple of seasons we wouldn't have seen Pelfrey in New York yet, and there wouldn't be so many out there eager to right him off as a failed prospect. I had a "discussion" with another Mets fan I met while on my recent trip who was willing to "guarantee" me that Pelfrey would be nothing more than an average middle reliever. When pressed on this, he really had nothing to offer than what he had read about Pelfrey. The point really is that few of us qualify as talent evaluators, and even the best of those are wrong more than they're right. I don't claim to know exactly how Mike Pelfrey will turn out, but I honestly believe he still has the chance to be an above-average major league starter.

The Red Sox have laid out a fairly convincing blueprint as to how a large-market that builds a strong player development system can set themselves up to be a serious contender for years. I thought the Sox showed a lot of patience in 2006 when they refused to part with any of their top prospects for a quick fix to try to make the playoffs. They got killed in the Boston press for that, but winning the World Series last year certainly silenced the critics. In the same way, the football Giants' patience with Eli sure looks smart now.

When you're calling for your team to make a deal, it's easy enough to point out all of the prospects that didn't pan out. Yet it's undeniable that with today's escalating salaries for stars and roll players alike that any team that hopes to compete going forward needs some young, cheap talent to balance out some of the bigger salaries. Like it or not, the only way to achieve that is to show a little patience.

In the case of acquiring Johan Santana, it made sense for the Mets to be a little impatient and give up some promising youth for a top of the rotation pitcher who is still relatively young. Still, it's interesting to note that the Mets didn't package all of their top prospects despite the outside pressure for them to make a deal for Santana. As it is, they go into the season without much major league ready (or even major league close) pitching depth in the organization, which means that we are a couple of injuries away from seeing the Jose Limas of the world plying their trade in Flushing this summer. At some point, I'd like to see kids with promise fill that role again.

One final thing. Championships are great. Even though I am nowhere near the Giants fan that I used to be, it was a special feeling to see them pull that one out. If the Mets were to win a World Series again sometime before I depart this earth, it will be all that and more for me. As much as I'd love to be able to see Johan Santana as the one final piece of the puzzle that will guarantee the Mets a championship, I've already shared with you my belief that inevitability doesn't exist in the sports world. The Mets certainly have a better chance with Johan leading the staff than they did without him, but there is still a lot that has to go right to win it all. Just ask the Patriots.

The only way to win a championship is to put yourself in a position to compete for it, and then have things work out for you. In that regard, I'd rather see the Mets set themselves up as a quality organization that does the little things right. Making the occasional big splash like landing the ace pitcher is nice, but Omar and company needs to get the little things right, too. Still, I have to admit I can't wait for spring training to start.

Read Part 1

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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Comments (3)

Lets play two! I heard talk about the great lineups of the Yankees and how they fell off from winning , when each one in the lineup was trying to win the ballgame with a homerun and forgot to play little ball and the runner on 3rd would be left standing. They started winng again when each player started to play baseball "101". Each at bat was building a run and the runner at 3rd always scored. I think we have the kind of lineup and team that can play little ball and be a solid play off team. A walk, steal a base, bunt sacrifice to advance the runner, sac. fly him to 3rd, base hit...." we score". That kind of baseball even wins W/S games. O. K . gang, everybody on the field for sit ups and running in place and bring your glove for some soft gounders and pop up drills. Lets go Mets.I'm ready for 2008.

Right on, your comment on Pelfrey and the world's unwillingness to wait for the good things to happen.

I am sort of glad that none of the same people had the ability to act upon their impulses a few years earlier, when one Aaron Heilman was struggling to find himself. He DID find himself eventually,as we all know.

Now, Aaron's not perfect; all he has managed over the past three seasons is: 208 appearances totaling 281 innings, with an ERA of 3.27 during that time, which is .97 better than League average over that time.

There are not many teans in baseball that wouldn't be glad to have him; yet there was a time when nearly all of us were ready to give up on Heilman. It's something to remember when we are deciding where and how deep we want to drop Mike Pelfrey.

Al - Glad you're fired up, Buddy. Can't wait for those S.T. games on tv.
dd - Agreed. It's amazing how many fans are still down on Heilman.

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