Not so long ago, three ships passed in the Met night. We probably didn’t grasp the transient nature of what was transpiring right in front of us because we didn’t know their night sharing the same waters would be over so soon.
On August 9, 2012, R.A. Dickey threw a complete-game, ten-strikeout five-hitter to defeat the Marlins at Citi Field, 5-1. Not only did R.A.’s 15th win (against only three losses) halt a three-game Met slide, it marked the first time the Mets had won at home in more than a month.
On August 10, 2012, the Mets’ discomfort in their own ballpark returned, as the Braves came to Queens and greeted Matt Harvey rudely. Harvey’s home debut was a far cry from his first major league start just over two weeks early. The rookie righty was behind, 2-0, after three batters, as Jason Heyward nailed him for a two-run homer. Matt lasted six and finished strong, retiring his final nine batters, but four walks in the first two innings told most of the story of the 4-0 loss.
On August 11, 2012, Johan Santana was making his first start in three weeks, having been placed on the disabled list in late July with what was listed as an ankle injury but probably had a little something to do with the surgically repaired left shoulder that had kept him out of action for all of 2011. Either way, Johan didn’t look sharp after Reed Johnson of the Cubs stepped on his ankle during a play at first base on July 6, so a little rest couldn’t hurt. In this Saturday night matchup with the Braves, however, it was obvious it didn’t help. Atlanta (whose lineup now included the very same Johnson) jumped all over Santana, knocking him out in the second inning. He left trailing, 5-0; Jeremy Hefner came in with the bases loaded and immediately surrendered a grand slam to Freddie Freeman. The Mets would lose, 9-1.
Fast-forward a few days later to Cincinnati. R.A. Dickey is gamesmanshipped by the Reds into removing two unobtrusive bracelets from his glove hand and loses, 6-1, on August 15. Matt Harvey finds the form that had the league buzzing upon his callup, striking out eight Reds while giving up just one run in 7⅔ innings en route to an 8-4 Mets win on August 16. Johan Santana starts the series-opener that follows the next evening in Washington and it doesn’t go nearly as well. Three perfect innings are wiped away in the fourth on three consecutive singles and the Michael Morse home run that drives in four on one swing. Johan gives up another homer in the fifth, a two-run job to Bryce Harper, before getting out of the inning by flying Morse deep to center.
It’s the last pitch Johan Santana will ever throw for the New York Mets, and August 17 marks the end of the era when the Met rotation features the team’s three most storied starters of the 21st century. One story was prematurely over, another was reaching its climax and the third was just filling its first pages. The era that encompassed all three of them lasted exactly two turns, but it happened. There was a time when the Mets would send R.A. Dickey, Matt Harvey and Johan Santana out to pitch in succession.
The time measured nine days in 2012.
The Mets could overwhelm opponents with dazzling starpower from the mound in the more distant, less fleeting past. In 1990, for example, it wasn’t uncommon to watch consecutive games started by Frank Viola, David Cone and Dwight Gooden. In 1976, we were regularly treated to some variation of Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack starting in succession. Down the stretch in 1969, Gil Hodges rolled out Koosman, Seaver and Nolan Ryan in a row.
But the ships that passed in the 2012 night — or sailed one behind the other ever so briefly before peeling off in three distinct directions — make for an unlikely unit in hindsight. It’s not two years later and it’s hard to picture those three together. Besides, in August of 2012, we couldn’t be quite certain that those three were Those Three. Unlike the other aforementioned groupings of yore, this was not a trio of contemporaries. You had no guarantee you’d have reason to think of them as peers in the “most storied starters” sense.
Today, their stories are still in flux, as they retain only one undeniable similar circumstance: the Mets are putting together a rotation for 2014 and none of them is slated to be a part of it.
Funny how time picks up speed and sails away. Funny, too, how quickly the names that are etched into our collective top-of-mind can be plastered over by other names.
Every March from 2008 to 2013, Johan Santana was the first pitching name we thought about, either because we were thrilled he was here or were worried that he wasn’t. Now, after an uncomfortably uncertain pause, we know for sure that Johan is in camp…but not ours. He signed a minor league deal with the Orioles the other day. He’s confident he’ll be back in pitching trim soon enough, ready to help his team at some point this season. We used to hear him offer those kinds of resolute projections, cross our fingers and hope for the best. I suspect we still hope for the best where Johan Santana is concerned, but his seemingly endless comeback trail winds through Sarasota, not St. Lucie. His salvation may be somebody else’s solution eventually, but right now, his status is somebody else’s problem.
We didn’t think about R.A. Dickey at all in the first March he flitted across our radar. In 2010, he was, as he likes to tell it, the first cut in Spring Training. Indeed, he and Josh Thole were reassigned to the minor league side of the Mets’ complex on March 15 that year, having been given all of five innings to impress Jerry Manuel. The journeyman and his knuckleball didn’t make much of an impression: nine hits, three walks, five earned runs. Two months later, he was called up from Buffalo. Two years later, he was crafting the best season by any pitcher in the National League and the best story by any player in the known universe. Then having literally and figuratively scaled every mountain available to him, the man who morphed into the undisputed Met ace once Santana was no longer physically able to maintain that mantle was traded to Toronto. This past week, as Johan was attempting to take flight as an Oriole, R.A. was up the coast in Clearwater loosening up his wing for the Blue Jays. He gave up a home run to the Phillies’ Marlon Byrd but was in no danger of being shuffled off to Buffalo. Jays manager John Gibbons has already named the fully proven veteran his Opening Day starter.
This is our third spring fully cognizant of Matt Harvey. In 2012, as Santana was making his way back from surgery and Dickey was promoting the autobiography whose release foreshadowed The Year of R.A., Matt was that tantalizing staple of every preseason: the unknown quantity we’d heard plenty about and couldn’t wait to see. He had a future, but it wasn’t going to be immediate. Triple-A Buffalo was young Matt’s destination but not without a quick detour to big league camp. 2010’s first-round draft choice was already impressing. “Did you see him?” Thole asked a reporter. “(Bleeping) unbelievable.”
Harvey was sent down on March 16, but was converting believers in his very first major league start on July 27, fanning eleven Diamondbacks in Phoenix and setting the stage for two intensely promising months of pitching. The only reason he wasn’t the biggest story of the back half of the 2012 season was Dickey had taken off into the stratosphere, chasing and notching a 20th win and earning a Cy Young. Dickey’s ascension was also the best reason we didn’t miss Santana quite so much as August turned to September. Likewise, Harvey’s subsequent rocket ride to all-world prominence explained why, despite the justified Sturm und Drang surrounding Dickey’s trade, R.A.’s absence wasn’t mourned quite as much as it might have been in 2013.
And now? Now we know we miss Matt Harvey and track every dispatch regarding his post-Tommy John (or, more accurately, post-Frank Jobe) rehabilitation, yet we have a fancy that requires capturing in the interim. In the spring of 2013, reasonably assured by Harvey’s first ten starts that he was for real, we were already peering ahead to the Next Big Thing, looking for proof that Zack Wheeler was as good as advertised. Byrd, then a Met, said Zack was “looking like a No. 1” and compared him to Justin Verlander. Wheeler’s now sufficiently old enough news that we’re obsessing on Noah Syndergaard, the flamethrower who looms as the ultimate prize in the Dickey deal…once he’s served enough time in Las Vegas to keep him from getting paid too soon. We didn’t want to wait for Matt or Zack and we don’t much want to wait on Noah’s clerical work to be processed, either. One exhibition start in and Terry Collins says, “He’s on track to be special.”
That’s the idea: a triple-helping of special, Harvey, Wheeler, Syndergaard, perhaps all in a row. Like when the Mets could string together trios of starts from the youthful and the accomplished. They have the youth. They just need the accomplishments. And uninterrupted health.
Santana had the accomplishments before coming to the Mets and racked up a few more during his New York tenure, one in particular that will live for as long as there is a Mets franchise (and another that nobody who saw it will ever forget). But he had only intermittent health. Dickey’s most admirable accomplishment pre-Met was professional survival. Then he came here and became an icon, captivating us whenever he spoke and dominating batters whenever he threw. Then he was gone in a transaction that we might not readily identify under his name in a couple of years. That left Harvey, who turned out, in a distressingly limited sample size, to be at least as good as either of his erstwhile rotationmates ever were as Mets. We assume Harvey Days will be bountiful again come 2015. We assume that because to imagine anything else would undercut our trio of dreams and be just too goddamn cruel to fathom.
We didn’t assume after that second turn through the rotation that went Dickey to Harvey to Santana that we’d never see Johan pitch for us again and we sure as hell had no idea only nine starts remained in R.A.’s Met career. We’d only recently come to understand how special it was to have the two of them burnishing their legends on a back-to-back basis. Then Matt was dropped in between them and there was no time in real time to comprehend just what we were seeing.
The idea was never quite Santana, Dickey and Harvey. It just kind of happened that way. Then, without warning, it wasn’t happening at all. That’s OK, though. Something seems to be happening here. We’ll just have to keep one eye on the horizon and try to figure out what it’s going to be.
My thanks to Annie Levy and the Photo ID Foundation for inviting me to take part in the Baseball As Good Medicine evening of storytelling Thursday night and thanks, as ever, to Jay Goldberg for his superlative hosting at the Bergino Baseball Clubhouse, a shrine each and every one of you should visit. Hat tip as well to my fellow storytellers, including Mets fan Paul Lukas, who not only knows how to wear a uniform but exchange a rain check.
Like the swallows that return to Capistrano every March, Mets fans dependably make the pilgrimage to Port St. Lucie every spring. It’s not so much what they see that spurs them onto southbound flights but what they feel. And what Ryder Chasin felt when he was treated to a longer than expected weekend in the temporary center of our universe is something we can all experience vicariously thanks to him being kind enough to write it up exclusively for Faith and Fear in Flushing readers.
Ryder last wrote for us when he covered the first Citi Field sleepover. Now our good friend and special correspondent presents his impressions of the 2014 baseball season as it begins to stir far from home.
It was a cold winter, mostly spent huddled in the dark, unblinking and mouth agape, ceaselessly and helplessly watching MLB Network — I could probably recite most of the Top Ten Right Now lists by memory — and scrolling through the 2013 archives of my fantasy league to try to relive the days of summer. But The Bite still itched.
Any moment not spent staring at the TV was reluctantly spent at school, where doodles of team logos and theoretical Mets lineups decorated my desks; I paid a little less attention to physics and a little more attention to where Juan Lagares looks best in the order (6? 7? 2? Then where does Murph go?). But The Bite still itched.
The QBC gave it a good, hard scratch, and the 2014 FanGraphs and ESPN projections provided sweet, albeit temporary, relief. But, suffice it to say, The Bite still itched.
See, it takes more than talk to satisfy The Bite of the baseball bug. It takes sun. It takes crowds. Put simply, it takes baseball. Right?
Well thanks to my wonderfully accommodating parents, that prescription was filled. My father and I, with the hope of there being tickets available at the door, hopped on a plane and took our fifth annual trip down to Port St. Lucie in an attempt to heal the infamous, if not abominable, Bite.
Tradition Field, whose traditions include tacos in helmets. (Photo by Ed Witty.)
Opening Day, Friday, 2/28:
Nationals 5 Mets 4
Though it was our fifth trip to camp, going to Spring Training Opening Day was a Chasin first. Our flight landed two hours before the national anthem, leaving us just enough time to hustle our way over to Tradition Field, buy our tickets, grab a Taco-in-a-Helmet (for those who haven’t had the pleasure, it truly is a disgusting yet delicious staple of Mets spring training) and get seated. We decided to celebrate being there for the first game, so we splurged and spent an exorbitant $20 a pop to sit first row, right next to the Mets bullpen.
The seats allowed me the pleasure of giving an acknowledged head-nod to Dave Racaniello; the silent bliss of watching the exceptionally sharp Rafael Montero pitch his pregame bullpen from ten feet away; the starstruck joy of waving down Dan Warthen after the game to ask him, since I hadn’t heard any news, how Jenrry was looking.
“Outstanding,” he said.
The game itself went down as a Met loss. Then again, every Spring Training game is a wash. But it wasn’t the result that mattered. No, what mattered was the Ike Davis moonshot and seeing Granderson in right and watching the jersey numbers ascend from the teens to the 60s as the game grew older. I didn’t care that the Mets were losing. I cared that the Mets were playing.
However, just as I felt the obtrusive Bite finally being scratched, the unfortunate metaphor physically manifested itself, and — perhaps due to the previously taco-filled helmets gathered under our seats — a swarm of flies started to loiter around us. The brave men and women of section 116 tried to combat the hive, but it was to no avail. We mutually decided just to ignore the bugs and try to enjoy the last few innings of the game. Nonetheless, metaphorically or otherwise, I was bitten. Again.
Day 2, Saturday, 3/1:
Marlins 9 Mets 1
Thankfully we had another day to try to cure the fresh Bite. This time we had no flight to keep us from getting to the park early and walking through camp. We again saw Montero, from even closer than ten feet, and my dad shook his hand to wish him luck this year. I’m not sure how much he understood, but he still said thank you and gave him a smile. If only all players were so courteous.
One courteous man was Terry Collins, who not only smiled and laughed through a good 15-second conversation, but who was kind enough to take a picture with me, putting himself in an uncomfortable pose where he had to reach his arm both over the fence and over my shoulder to make it look amicable. Despite the discomfort, and the fact that my FAFIF shirt did not make an appearance, I think it turned out just fine.
Managing to take a pretty good picture.
Before too long, though, we were kicked from our spot at batting practice, and had to make our way inside the stadium. Another Taco-in-a-Helmet later, and we were in seats with which we’re more accustomed, in the second deck, but at a perfect vantage point to see the misplaced John Lannan take on the Marlins.
Duda’s tape-measure blast was the only Mets Magic of note at the game. It turned out, of course, to be a 9-1 rout, and, though I said the results don’t matter, the deflation wasn’t just seen on the scoreboard, but also on the field. So, while Opening Day brought so much to cheer for, Saturday’s game brought nothing but wonted pessimism — not to mention it didn’t much help The Bite.
Day 3, Sunday, 3/2:
No Game Attended
I woke up expecting to go home Sunday night, with The Bite still itchy as ever. We had packed our bags in the morning and headed out to do non-baseball-related (thus, I suppose, uninteresting) activities, when we got word that our flight into JFK was canceled due to the impending superstorm that was projected to hit the New York area. With that, my dad and I had won a bonus day in Florida, separated by only a two-hour drive from Champion Stadium in Kissimmee, where the Mets would play the Braves on Monday. Our agenda was immediately set.
Side note: I hear now that the storm never really hit. I don’t know if I believe in fate, but I’m starting to think that maybe there was never going to be a storm at all; that maybe it was the work of some gracious Baseball God who understood the feeling of The Bite and knew I had to see just one more game. But I digress.
Day 4, Monday, 3/3:
Mets 6 Braves 2
It wasn’t until the morning that I discovered Syndergaard was starting. I let out a giddy yelp and sent a text to three of my other Mets friends, eliciting justifiably mixed responses.
“Tell me how Thor looks,” one said.
“Lucky man,” said another.
“I hate you,” said the third.
With ample excitement in my heart and ample sunscreen on my nose, we made our way to the stadium. Champion Stadium is a part of the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex at Disney, and so the employees are all Disney-programmed to be extraordinarily cheerful. Used to Citi Field, I was certainly a bit taken aback.
Nonetheless, aided by these unconditional smiles, we were directed into the stadium. We got there exceptionally early once again, and passed the time by sitting in the row immediately behind the Mets dugout, waving to unfamiliar faces of the non-roster invitees while pseudo-fans tossed their balls and pens to the Danny Munos and Eric Campbells of the traveling roster.
Somewhere along the way, we found out we were sitting near Matt den Dekker’s grandfather and Anthony Seratelli’s uncle-in-law. It made for some interesting conversation, and Seratelli tossed some sugar-free dugout Dubble Bubble our way.
We stayed in the seats we found behind the dugout; by another touch of the Baseball Gods, nobody came to claim them. It gave us the perfect vantage point to watch Syndergaard’s relaxed elegance — his easy 97 — through to the end of his two-inning tease. The anticipation was well worth the result, but, while I thought Syndergaard might be my fix, The Bite stayed.
Next, Familia came out throwing 98 with life, and he held the Braves to nothing over a couple of frames. He left. The Bite stayed.
Suddenly, if not fittingly, flies again swarmed our section, this time unprompted by Tacos in Helmets. I had a flashback to Friday, to the bugs — quite literally the baseball bugs — flitting around us as our row sat still, trying to ignore them and watch the game. We weren’t kidding anybody. The bugs were there, and so were their Bites. They weren’t just going to go away.
I decided that this time it was going to be different. This time I wasn’t going to sit idly by waiting for the bugs to leave. To beat this eerily accurate metaphor, this time I was going to Bite back.
What ensued was a gruesome battle, lasting the better part of four innings. More flies would swoop in, and I would swat them down or bat them with my scorecard. By the bottom of the eighth, the ground, not the air, was full of flies.
That inning, though, the Braves surged ahead to take a 2-1 lead, and the Mets looked defeated. Wild pitches and inopportune hits forced the beautiful outings from Syndergaard and Familia to go in vain. The day was almost over, and The Bite itched terribly. We trudged into the top of ninth, ready to head home.
But then an Amazin’ thing happened. A triple. Andy Brown, without warning, sliding safely into third base. And then, before I had time to mark it down in the book, a base knock. The Mets had tied it in the ninth. A few hits and a blink later, it was 5-2, and the Braves pitcher was now the one trudging off the field. A stolen base and another hit brought the Mets to threefold the opposing score as we headed into the bottom of the inning, and a “Let’s Go Mets” chant erupted at the Braves’ ballpark. After the raucous ended and the hum of the crowd reformed, I felt something I hadn’t felt in months: no itch. No Bite.
The bottom of the ninth started with good ol’ Gonzalez Germen on the bump, but the game wasn’t the focus anymore. Even if Germen gave up 20 runs — which I suppose would be impossible given how the bottom of the ninth works — there was no question as to which team won. Just then, as Germen was delivering his final pitch, my dad looked around our seats.
“No more bugs,” he said. “Guess you must have gotten them all.”
I looked at my scorecard, and recorded the final out.
“Guess so,” I said back with a smile.
Now with three games under my belt and a glimpse into happier times for the Mets, I can rest easy. No longer do I constantly feel the need to chew off my nails like an addict on withdrawal. Instead I feel content; happy. I feel, perhaps foolishly, optimistic.
But I think in the end that’s the cure to The Bite: a little optimism. There’s so much unfeeling analysis in FanGraphs and ESPN projections, and only so much speculation to make about offseason moves and top ten lists. Sometimes maybe it’s best to take a page out of Warthen’s book and look at things as though they might really be, well, outstanding.
Mike Piazza is a special instructor in Mets camp. He is among the most special of all Mets, so the title fits. Nice of him to swing by St. Lucie, just as it was good thinking on Jeff Wilpon’s part to invite him.
(We will now take the keyboard on which I’m typing out of play and send it to Cooperstown, as it’s the first keyboard ever used by a Mets blogger to express a complimentary thought toward Jeff Wilpon.)
What instruction can Piazza give the Mets of today, particularly their catchers? Besides “wear extra padding in your mitt when Syndergaard pitches”? Whatever it is, I’m willing to bet it will be useful. He’s Mike Piazza, for goodness sake. We don’t regularly tout his election to the Hall of Fame just to be friendly. He was one of the all-time greats as a hitter and — the occasional floating throw into center notwithstanding — a hard-nosed catcher who seemed to work well with his pitchers. If you weren’t convinced of his credentials after experiencing his eight breathtaking seasons at Shea, then read his 2013 autobiography, which I just got around to doing. Mike will make sure to let you know he was one of the best…whether you appreciate him or not.
Sadly, he doesn’t think you do, which seems to be the point of the book.
Long Shot (written with Lonnie Wheeler) is the richly detailed life story of a public figure you thought about plenty while he was in your line of sight but, honestly, never thought about nearly as much the public figure himself did. You couldn’t have. We are all our own protagonists, but Long Shot takes the concept well beyond focused self-examination. The book seems to assume every moon, planet and sun revolved around Mike Piazza from the first time a scout watched him take his cuts to the last time he left a major league field as an active player…and none of those heavenly bodies spun quite to the center of Piazza Universe’s satisfaction.
The Piazza of Long Shot lays out a canvas unfortunately skewed to slights. Mike never got over the doubts of anybody who didn’t think he belonged in professional baseball, anybody who wasn’t convinced of his merits as a catcher or hitter, anybody who…well, everybody. Everybody doubted Mike Piazza and he showed them. That’s the tone of the book. That’s the substance. If he was as defensive during his playing career as he is in his recollections, he’d have more Gold Gloves than Johnny Bench. Every now and then he drops in a note about how lucky he was and how grateful he is to have been so blessed, but then he gets back to ticking off all the times somebody ticked him off.
As exhilarating as it was to watch Piazza hit to all fields is how exhausting it was to read Piazza remember selectively. He portrays New York as incredibly tough on him, what with all the booing after he was traded here. I went to 18 games in 1998 with Mike a member of the Mets and I have to say I mostly recall standing and cheering in the company of tens of thousands who were doing the same. Granted, the random 6-4-3 DP wasn’t greeted with “aw, you’ll get ’em next time, big fella,” from everybody populating Loge and Mezzanine, but No. 31 was the most popular Met from the moment he boarded the plane that carried him definitively north from Fort Lauderdale. Dissenters notwithstanding, we Mets fans absolutely adored Mike Piazza. We were overjoyed when we got him. We were ecstatic when he signed to stay on. We were saddened when he waved goodbye. I didn’t know we were not living up to his expectations while we were emoting overwhelmingly in favor of his being Our Guy from 1998 through 2005.
Then again, he has far less good to say about Dodger fans, so I don’t feel so bad about inadvertently making him feel episodically put upon. The Dodger crowd made him feel worse. So did Dodger management. So did many of his L.A. teammates, not to mention those with whom he played in the minors. By comparison, New York was nothing but peaches, cream and perfectly permissible protein shakes (the rich detail includes an exploration of Mike’s workout regimen, presumably included to deflect the inane bacne assertions that have undermined his Hall candidacy to date).
Plus, he’s still Mike Piazza of the New York Mets and will always be Mike Piazza of the New York Mets. No overly touchy memoir can take that away from me.
While I came away from Long Shot wishing Mike was more comfortable as the Hall of Fame-caliber star who inhabits his own skin, I wasn’t altogether sorry I read it. His inherent affability shone through despite pursuing his agenda of dismay, plus I learned a good bit about how a spectacular hitter and stalwart catcher sees the game, and now that he’s special-instructing, I imagine he has a few pointers (besides “dude, hit the ball real hard”) to pass on to the likes of Travis d’Arnaud.
I was also reminded you don’t have to have been Piazza-level as a player to accumulate and dispense wisdom to the next generation. One of the names that jumped out from the pages of grudges in Long Shot was that of Frank Estrada. Estrada was Piazza’s winter league manager in Mexico in 1991 — and Frank is short for Francisco.
Recognize him? Francisco Estrada was one of the four players the Mets gave up to get Jim Fregosi from the Angels in 1971. That’s usually as far as he gets in the Met canon, but if you read Long Shot, you’ll find out that Estrada played a role in Mets history that outweighs his throw-in status in the Nolan Ryan deal.
Francisco Estrada taught Mike Piazza how to catch. Not singlehandedly, but enough so that Piazza saw fit to single him out for his instruction more than 20 years after the fact. “He taught me a lot,” Mike wrote of the man known as Paquin. “In the end, going to Mexico was absolutely the best thing I could have done that winter…it was when I started to become a polished hitter.”
Ryan + 3 for Fregosi was a bust of epic proportions for the Mets. But if you consider Piazza, by way of Estrada’s tutelage, a de facto throw-in to the deal coming back this way (albeit 27 years after the fact), I’d say the worst trade ever made eventually evened out just fine.
The Oscars were handed out Sunday night. Thus, per Monday morning-after tradition, the Academy pauses to remember those Mets who have, in the baseball sense, left us in the past year.
AARON STEVEN LAFFEY
April 7, 2013 – April 20, 2013
[T]he Mets are so shallow in the starting pitching pool and so determined to not “start the clock” on Wheeler any sooner than they have to that they are confusing Aaron Laffey with Johan Santana. Johan Santana gave the Mets eight solid innings on the Tuesday of the final week of the 2008 season when a playoff spot was on the line and then brought him back, meniscus and all, to carry them as far as he could on the succeeding Saturday. This will be the last time Aaron Laffey will be compared to Johan Santana, but before we leave the profane comparison, consider that was a September with everything on the line and Johan was our ace. This is April and the Mets, because of a doubleheader (or two, pending the next couple of days) are “forced” to preserve Aaron Laffey so he can be deployed on short rest. Not because he’s that splendid, but because he’s that here.
—April 17, 2013
(Selected off waivers by Blue Jays, 4/23/2013)
JUSTIN MICHAEL HAMPSON
June 25, 2012 – October 2, 2012
Maybe a team whose bench feels thin because they had to DFA Vinny Rottino to make room in their bullpen for Justin Hampson has been more mirage than previously acknowledged.
—June 26, 2012
(Free agent, 11/5/2013; currently unsigned)
ELVIN (Rodriguez) RAMIREZ
June 3, 2012 – October 2, 2012
The 11th belonged to young Elvin Ramirez, thrown into the deep, shark-infested, acid-filled end of the pool. Ramirez showed a precocious awareness of the game by embracing the principle of pitching to his defense, meaning he struck out three Nats rather than allow any of his incompetent teammates to touch the ball. It seemed Ramirez would be rewarded in the 12th, when Hairston mashed a home run off Ross Detwiler, but he looked gassed in the bottom of the frame, with Terry Collins out of relievers and unwilling to call on Jeremy Hefner, tomorrow’s starter. There were instant back-to-back doubles for the tie, a wild pitch, Ramirez attempting to lose the game by nearly tossing the ball to the backstop on an intentional walk (yes really), an unintentional walk to Detwiler (who baffled everyone by repeatedly trying to bunt ball four), and eventually Harper’s fatal two-out hit.
—June 6, 2012
(Sold to Angels, 3/17/2013)
SEAN MICHAEL HENN
September 9, 2013 – September 23, 2013
Ex-Yankees began crossing the Macombs Dam Bridge to the Polo Grounds in 1962 when Marv Throneberry (by way of Baltimore) and Gene Woodling (Washington) made the trip. They were greeted in Upper Manhattan by their old skipper Casey Stengel and might have recognized in their midst a onetime Yankee farmhand by the name of Rod Kanehl when they arrived. It’s a recurring phenomenon now more than 50 years old. In 2013, Aaron Laffey, David Aardsma and Sean Henn all showed they knew the way to Flushing Bay: just jump off a scrap heap and transfer at Grand Central for the Queens-bound 7.
—December 11, 2013
(Free agent, 10/20/2013; currently unsigned)
DANIEL RAY HERRERA
September 2, 2011 – September 27, 2011
The principal PTBNL in K-Rod’s trade to Milwaukee, Herrera was about four feet tall, had a Muppetesque mop of hair and pulled his cap down so low that it was a week before you could verify he had eyes. And he didn’t want to be called Danny. All that was endearing; so was the fact that he pitched pretty effectively, admittedly in garbage-time conditions.
—November 3, 2011
(Released, 3/30/2013; signed with Long Island Ducks, 7/19/2013)
AARON MICHAEL HARANG
September 12, 2013 – September 28, 2013
Surprise! Aaron Harang was…not that bad. He wasn’t great, but he pitched capably enough — a team with an iota of offense might have had a chance out there, which unfortunately doesn’t describe the current Mets.
—September 12, 2013
(Free agent, 10/31/2013; signed with Indians, 2/15/2014)
CHRISTOPHER ANTHONY “Chris” SCHWINDEN
September 8, 2011 – May 30, 2012
[A]fter identifying him as a prime protagonist in losses of 10-1, 18-9 and now 8-1… with little in the way of contradictory evidence to suggest he was simply pitching in tough luck…Chris Schwinden can go find himself another gig. Or go get more experience at Buffalo and return later and make me Met-a culpa. I’ll be happy to do so. I’m not in this to rag on Chris Schwinden. I’m in it to not give up on games as soon as I recognize Chris Schwinden is starting them.
—May 3, 2012
(Cleared waivers, July 10, 2012; pitched for Triple-A Buffalo in 2012 and Las Vegas in 2013 and remains in the Mets organization, but has never been restored to the 40-man roster and wasn’t invited to major league camp in 2014. For the purposes of this feature, Chris Schwinden is no longer with us.)
DAVID ALLAN AARDSMA
June 8, 2013 – September 28, 2013
The bullpen that succeeded Harvey and preceded Marcum was real good. Or they faced the Marlins. Whichever, it wasn’t their fault. David Aardsma looked Aa-OK as he knocked Don Aase from the top of the Mets’ all-time alphabetical chart.
—June 9, 2013
(Free agent, 10/31/2013; signed with Indians, 1/23/2014)
GREGORY FRANCIS “Greg” BURKE
April 3, 2013 – September 23, 2013
I saw Greg Burke, who might be more tolerable if he were Australian or a beet farmer in the offseason, pick up where he left off the last time he was around, which is to say wondering where that damn thing just landed.
—September 10, 2013
(Free agent, 11/5/2013; signed with Rockies, 11/18/2013)
SCOTT BARHAM ATCHISON
April 1, 2013 – September 28, 2013
Scott Atchison, who gets ample play despite being Mr. Gray, kept the Fish at bay in the home sixth.
—May 1, 2013
(Free agent, 12/2/2013; signed with Indians, 1/6/2014)
SHAUN MICHAL MARCUM
April 27, 2013 – July 6, 2013
May my blood stop running orange and blue if I can’t deliver unto you an assessment of Shaun Marcum’s pitching, so here goes, albeit borrowed from John Adams as he critiqued a portrait intended to preserve Benjamin Franklin for posterity in 1776: “It stinks.” [...] This blogger may be no Botticelli, but the subject of this blog is no Venus.
—July 7, 2013
(July 23, 2013; signed with Indians, 12/16/2013)
COLLIN BRANNEN COWGILL
April 1, 2013 – June 18, 2013
Less fantastic was we couldn’t make out from Section 526 that Cowgill had indeed cleared the blue wall and banged Brad Brach’s ball off the black backdrop. For what the Mets charged on Opening Day, the least they could do is provide a geometrically sound view. Old news, I suppose. But where was the live-action look on any of the multiple video screens lining the outfield? Nowhere. And where was the conclusive replay? Cut off right before the ball reached its destination. And what about the next half-inning? Delta sponsored the presentation of a Collin Cowgill-autographed baseball to One Lucky Fan. For the rest of us? We would’ve been fortunate to see a replay of the mysterious triplish hit that spurred the gift. But all we saw was Collin swing and an ad for Delta. Or as the wise beyond her years little girl sitting behind us commented, “They don’t show the home run, but they show an airplane.”
—April 5, 2013
(Traded to Angels, 6/25/2013)
BRANDON JAMES LYON
April 1, 2013 – July 4, 2013
Then we got back to being idiots, sitting through intermittent showers, invisible offense and Brandon Lyon.
—June 30, 2013
(Released, 7/9/2013; signed with Red Sox, 7/19/2013)
ROBERT N. CARSON
May 18, 2012 – August 28, 2013
Some positive developments for the Mets Saturday. Shaun Marcum got his throwing in, working his way up to 71 pitches. He only lasted four innings, but it’s not like anybody was counting. Then Terry Collins experimented a little and brought Robert Carson in for the fifth, which isn’t where you’d expect to see him, but roles are still undefined, so it didn’t really matter. The Phillies brought their A-club with them and Carson was kind of roughed up. Still, it was good experience for him.
—April 27, 2013
(Selected off waivers by Angels, 10/17/2013)
COLLIN ALEXANDER McHUGH
August 23, 2012 – June 1, 2013
And on Thursday afternoon, a beautiful day for a ballgame if only the Mets had decided to take part in one, a young fellow named Collin McHugh made his major league debut, shut out Colorado for seven innings on two hits while striking out nine. Mets lose, 1-0.
—August 24, 2012
(Traded to Rockies, June 18, 2013)
RICHARD ALEXANDER “Rick” ANKIEL
May 13, 2013 – June 8, 2013
Picking up Ankiel in mid-May after the Astros no longer wanted him was one of the more mystifying decisions of the Alderson regime, transferring playing time from young guys who needed it to an old guy who all too obviously no longer merited it. Ankiel’s final big-league AB was a strikeout that ended a 20-inning loss against the Marlins in June, a sad end to a final chapter that never should have been written in the first place.
—October 23, 2013
(Free agent, 6/11/2013; currently unsigned
UPDATE: Reported retired, 3/5)
JOHNATHAN RICHARD “John” BUCK
April 1, 2013 – August 24, 2013
It’s the golden hour for John Buck right now, that fleeting interregnum when the journeyman is master craftsman. It is a time to be savored. John Buck drives in nine runs in five games, four of them in his fifth game to propel the Mets to a Saturday victory. John Buck draws a roughing the catcher penalty the likes of which struck everybody as completely novel. John Buck offers pitchers wise counsel, teammates unyielding support and every fanny in sight a manly slap for a job well done. All things considered, John Buck is the best Met we’ve seen this year until he’s not — which is swell for now and whatever it is for later. Let’s enjoy the swell. Let’s enjoy every professional at-bat that produces all manner of RBI, from two-run double to two sac flies against the Marlins to move the Mets back above .500 and Buck to the front of the National League ribeye steak line. We have a hitter who leads the league in something. Didn’t see that coming.
—April 7, 2013
(Traded to Pirates, 8/27/2013)
TIMOTHY CHRISTOPHER “Tim” Byrdak
April 3, 2011 – September 26, 2013
Who’s in? Byrdak? Why not? Will Terry let him face lefties and righties with a seven-run lead? I feel like I just started watching this game and now I’m totally invested in it. C’mon Byrdak, don’t make this messy. I don’t wanna see Manny Acosta come in. I never wanna see Manny Acosta come in. Nice slow grounder, Reyes to Tejada to Murphy…double play! We win. That was fun.
—June 11, 2011
(Free agent, 10/31/2013; currently unsigned)
FRANKLIN “Frank” FRANCISCO
April 5, 2012 – September 29, 2013
We can cluck about it now because after Andres Torres had to do a little Jim Edmonds number to retire Russell Martin, and Frank walked Ibañez and gave up a single to Captain Pause Sign to inject unwanted drama into the ninth inning at Citi Field, Francisco emerged only slightly scathed. Our closer of record (because apparently we have to have one) struck out the murderously dangerous Curtis Granderson and popped Mark Teixeira and his ill-fitting helmet to Omar Quintanilla, who apparently hasn’t seen enough ninth-inning, two-out highlight films to USE TWO HANDS! but cradled the ball anyway, and it was a win for Jon Niese, a save for Frank Francisco and a great relief to us all.
—June 23, 2012
(Free agent, 10/31/2013; currently unsigned)
April 3, 2013 – September 28, 2013
Enter (after a failed cameo by David Aardsma) the Hawk, who didn’t exactly swoop in with glee. LaTroy understood he was signed to serve not just as a pitcher but as a mentor. As the season was concluding, he mentioned the veterans who taught him the ropes when he was a neophyte Twin in the 1990s. One of the names belonged to Rick Aguilera, then the resident closer at the Metrodome, a decade earlier a building block of great Met things to come. Now, in his own baseball autumn, LaTroy Hawkins hoped he could set an example for the Parnells, the Gonzalez Germens and the Vic Blacks who were following in his footsteps. Whatever words of wisdom he offered were more than backed up by what he demonstrated from the mound. Hawkins had exactly zero saves through four months of the season. Beginning August 6, he compiled 13, blowing only one along the way. It wasn’t the plan to send a 40-year-old right arm to pitch so many ninths, but he became the best possible option and he didn’t disappoint. When 2013 was over, Hawkins had saved more games, logged more innings and chalked up more appearances than he had in any season since 2004.
—November 16, 2013
(Free agent, 10/31/2013; signed with Rockies, 11/21/2013)
JORDANY V. (Guzman) VALDESPIN
April 23, 2012 – July 13, 2013
To the hypothetical introductory highlight package of today, please add footage from last night. Please add Jordany Valdespin socking it to Jonathan Papelbon. Please follow that ball into the right field stands, its flight both instant and eternal. Please evoke the shock that a minor league callup who was a minor league senddown rescued only by physical setback to another Met chose this moment for his first major league hit, a pinch-hit three-run home run that broke a 2-2 tie with two out in the ninth inning in a ballpark where very little good has occurred over the past five years. Please don’t cut away until we see Jordany Valdespin round first base and shake with delight, one innocent fist briefly raised, because for all the standard jockish admonitions to act like you’ve been there before, Jordany Valdespin hadn’t.
—May 8, 2012
(Free agent, 12/2/2013; signed with Marlins, 12/20/2013)
PEDRO JUAN (Molina) FELICIANO
September 4, 2002 – October 1, 2004
April 18, 2006 – October 2, 2010
August 2, 2013 – September 28, 2013
If you’ve ever felt a little charge upon reacquainting yourself with an old song that wasn’t exactly a favorite back in the day but it’s surprisingly good to hear playing again from out of nowhere, then you know how I feel upon seeing Pedro Feliciano in a Mets uniform this Spring Training. For me and my vintage ear, spotting Pedro in Port St. Lucie is akin to turning on CBS-FM and hearing something by Firefall instead of the Eagles for the 4,000th time this month. Pedro’s not the pitcher that I always dreamed of, but he’s a damn comforting sight. He was a survivor in his Met prime and he’s even more of one now. He’s survived four managers, two collapses, several departures, enough spins around the mound turntable to have worn out the sturdiest copy of “Hotel California” plus an injury that has kept him MLB-inactive since the last time he pitched for us. When I saw him wearing one of those adorable Mr. Met caps a couple of weeks ago, I realized the picture wasn’t quite right. Pedro Feliciano needn’t wear a cap with Mr. Met’s image emblazoned on it. Mr. Met should be wearing a cap with Pedro Feliciano’s face affixed squarely above the bill.
—March 7, 2013
(Free agent, 10/31/2013; currently unsigned)
MARLON JERRARD BYRD
April 1, 2013 – August 26, 2013
Nobody was amending their “what outfield?” cracks when Byrd landed amid the Mets’ pasture of uncertainty in Port St. Lucie. There was no sense of we’re only dealing with two-thirds of a mess because this Marlon Byrd, he who had suffered beanings and bannings in the previous two years, was gonna clear everything up. He hasn’t. Yet on a team in which Razzies could be awarded to many, Byrd’s not close to being in the bottom five, which is like being one of the best players on a good team. Or, put another way, Byrd has actually been one of the best players on this bad team.
—June 6, 2013
(Traded to Pirates, 8/27/2013)
JUSTIN MATTHEW TURNER
July 16, 2010 – September 29, 2013
BuffaMets fever broke a little Saturday night, though Justin Turner continued to hit, which was good news for Americans from coast to coast wondering breathlessly whether Turner would break the longstanding record for most consecutive games with a run batted in by a Mets rookie. It was one of the most cherished records in all of sport, dating back to 1965 and embedding itself in the consciousness of fans everywhere since at least Friday when it was casually mentioned on SNY. I love worrying about records I not only never heard of before but records I had never stopped to consider were records. “Most consecutive games by a Mets rookie with a run batted in”…who knew? Once I did know, it became imperative to me that Justin Turner would come to own it. While I’m tickled orange and blue over Turner having knocked in a run in seven straight games as a relative neophyte, I have to admit I was disappointed to learn that until Friday night he had never heard of Ron Swoboda, the man who established the heretofore unbreakable consecutive rookie RBI game streak 46 years ago. It’s one thing to not know you’re making obscure history. It’s another to not know that you’re unseating a legend. A Met legend, certainly. When I read Turner’s admission of ignorance, I couldn’t be disappointed in Turner. How can any Mets fan be disappointed in Justin Turner?
—May 22, 2011
(Free agent, 12/2/2013; signed with Dodgers, 2/6/2014)
MICHAEL JOSEPH “Mike” BAXTER
August 8, 2011 – September 29, 2013
The man who once drew five walks in a single game wasn’t even getting on base incidentally in 2013, and it was impossible to not notice that after the May homestand during which he drove in two giddy walkoff runs, he hadn’t accumulated a single RBI…not one. So you’d see Baxter in the lineup five times in the final six games and you weren’t heartened. You wanted to know why den Dekker wasn’t in right. Or why den Dekker wasn’t in center and Lagares wasn’t in right. Or where the next Darryl Strawberry was coming from and when was he gonna get here? We were sure we had seen enough of Mike Baxter to last a lifetime. Which wasn’t quite accurate, because there’s a moment of Mike Baxter we could spool up daily from here to eternity and never get tired of looking at. The Mike Baxter of the present couldn’t compete with the players — real or conceptual — who we conceived of as having a future. And it wasn’t fair to have that Mike Baxter obscure the Mike Baxter of the recent yet undeniably distancing-itself past. For the best interests off all concerned, today’s Mike Baxter had to become a former Met. The more we watched ordinary, limited-tool Mike Baxter struggle at the plate, the more we were forced to rue that the Mets were forced to rely on this Mike Baxter. This Mike Baxter should have never been allowed to interfere with the Mike Baxter we cherish.
—October 18, 2013
(Selected off waivers by Dodgers, 10/17/2013)
JOHAN ALEXANDER SANTANA
March 31, 2008 – August 17, 2012
Johan Santana pitched the First No-Hitter in New York Mets History. It happened. It really and truly happened. I shouted and I cried and I hugged my wife and we drank champagne from the same Mets mugs with which we toasted the 2006 N.L. East championship, none of which will show up in the box score, but I always wondered what I would do if it happened, and now I know. We can all go count something else now.
—June 1, 2012
(Free agent, 11/1/2013; currently unsigned
UPDATE: Signed with Orioles, 3/4/2014)
Who cares how the Mets look after two exhibition games? I’m just happy to hear their names again, most of which meet the ear in a pleasingly lyrical fashion. These guys might not quite match up with Dave Frishberg’s legendary lineup, but the mellifluous Mets of 2014 sound pretty formidable to me.
Andrew Brown, Daniel Murphy.
Matthew den Dekker!
Kyle Farnsworth and Gonzalez Germen.
Matthew den Dekker!
Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Bartolo Colon —
Lucas Duda and Eric Young.
Scott Rice and Curtis Granderson.
Dice Matsuzaka. Trav d’Arnaud.
Logan Verrett, Juan Centeno.
Matthew den Dekker!
Isaac Davis and Raffy Montero —
Thor Syndergaard, Bob Parnell.
Omar Quintanilla, Erik Goeddel.
Carlos Torres and John Lannan.
Wilmer Flores and Josh Satin…
Matthew den Dekker!
And in the spirit of the era Dave Frishberg evoked, listen in as Sam Maxwell and I talk New York Giants, Brooklyn Dodgers and, inevitably, New York Mets on Sam’s Bedford & Sullivan podcast.
Today was crowded.
Joshua had no school because of parent-teacher conferences. Our first order of business was to get him a new passport, which for the under-16 set means showing up in person, photocopying lots of stuff, and getting a notary to OK the absent parent’s permission. Oh, and waiting in line at the post office.
Since that wasn’t the most entertaining way to spend a morning, I’d promised the kid a special no-school-today lunch in Chinatown, followed by a trip to a famous Italian bakery in Little Italy to sample various awesome pastry concoctions. After which we’d have that school conference, and then run some assorted errands.
A lot to do, and it was another bone-chilling day, with winter clamping its jaws on you after walking but a block or two. But I had a bit of a spring in my step despite the frozen conditions — because this was the day that 1:10 pm started to mean something again. That thought was new enough and the day was busy enough that I kept forgetting, which was even better, because remembering made me happy.
We didn’t make first pitch against the Nationals, which was fine. I only saw a couple of innings, which was fine too. It’s spring training. Nobody’s wearing respectable uniforms, the varsity (such as it is in Metland) departs early, the ball makes an odd sound off the bat, the crowd is far too amped, and so on and so on. My first glance was of Jacob deGrom. My first thought was “Dude’s hirsute,” which won’t earn high marks for analysis but was accurate. My first claps were for Cesar Puello’s double. My first moment spoiled by looking at Twitter while on iPad-induced TV delay was Ike Davis’ homer.
All good. Like I said, it’s spring training. Each year I watch the first telecast avidly for about 20 minutes, then wind up emailing or reading a magazine or devoting half my attention to something else. I like that about spring training, and (to a lesser extent) about baseball that matters too. Sure, baseball rewards unwavering attention — there’s always something new to learn, something to understand better, or just the chance to immerse yourself in the beauty of the game. But baseball’s also a good companion even if you’re just hanging out together. You can enjoy it if you look up a few times an inning. Baseball doesn’t mind your haphazard attention — the two of you will have all spring and summer and if you’re lucky a chunk of the fall too.
So I watched a little deGrom and Puello and Ike and tweeted a bit and then it was time to head over for school for our conference. When I got back the Mets had lost, which isn’t ideal but doesn’t particularly matter now. They’ll be on TV this weekend, which I’ll have to miss, but that’s OK. Because they’ll be on TV again Tuesday. And then for so many days after that. Whether we win 90 or lose 90, that makes me happy.
Hello again, old friend. I’ve missed you. We all have.
Need a cure for the common winter? It’s coming 1:10 PM Friday. Just because what the Mets do against the Nationals in their exhibition opener won’t count doesn’t mean it won’t be good for what ails us.
It’s baseball, featuring players we’ve heard of, beamed to our screens by SNY and through our speakers by WOR. Tune in. Savor it. Inhale. Drool. Get some Mets into your system, for goodness sake. You haven’t had nearly enough lately.
The potential inherent in baseball’s medicinal properties should be obvious to everyone who’s been exposed to any five-day forecast since December. The Mets on Grapefruit League TV and radio is an effective inoculation against the pointlessness of March, but if you need a little booster shot, I have a referral for you.
On Thursday night, March 6, at 7 o’clock, come on over to Bergino Baseball Clubhouse in Manhattan (67 E. 11th St., between Broadway and University) for “Baseball As Good Medicine,” a fundraising event in which stories centered on the “amazing, magical, mysterious healing qualities” of our beloved game will be told — including by yours truly — and money will be raised to help the Photo ID Foundation help some deserving kids.
Here’s what Photo ID does:
“Our work puts cameras and other tools in the hands of young people with medical challenges/life threatening illnesses to enable them to create media projects that communicate, educate and transform their experiences.”
Purchase a ticket here for as little as $25 and enjoy an evening of baseball, food, drink and a little more baseball while supporting a fine cause. And if I didn’t mention it, there’ll be baseball.
I hope to see you there.
This just in (and in…and in again, because boy does the novelty of Spring Training wear off fast): wave after wave of Met after Met has descended upon Port St. Lucie, led by approximately 54 power-armed young pitchers, all of whom brandish can’t-miss stuff, a couple of whom might even be permitted to make the Opening Day roster and not be shut down by mid-September…but probably not.
Pardon my impatience in the face of the wise long-term planning that it is sworn will be our ultimate salvation. After enduring five years of nothingness in the standings and staring at six months that will (very likely) refuse to include a single Harvey Day, I want to be Syndergaarded and Monteroed and perhaps deGromed as soon as possible, never mind Wheelered as much as possible. I’m not in the mood for the caution preached by pitch-limiters and the logic calculated inside the Department of Super-Twoitude. I want 97 MPH fastballs crashing into Travis d’Arnaud’s mitt to drown out the nagging voice of John Fiedler as Mr. Duke reminding Felix and Oscar that every safety feature built into the impregnable Security Arms is there “for your own good”.
I want the Mets to be good. The wait continues to grate.
Although he turned back time over his last few 2013 starts — or at least stopped the gears of the Matsuclocka from grinding ever so slowly — I’m not delirious for Dice-K. Even if he and I share a hometown, I’m not shaking the Long Beach sand out of my shoes in a race to see John Lannan do the ol’ City by the Sea proud. Invite all the experienced hands you want to Spring Training, but back here in the world, the only thought that truly warms my Metsian soul amid this endlessly stubborn dead of winter is those kids pounding the strike zone in the next available regulation baseball season. And as long as I’m dreaming, how about fewer positional question marks and more bold-faced exclamation points to end this hellish period of Met noncontention?
The Mets are preparing to pounce pretty soon, but not now. They’ll be ready later. Check back in a dozen or so months and the time should be arriving. If everybody else promises to not get any better in the interim, that shapes up as a clever Tortoise v. Hare strategy. Yet the division does not stand still. In Washington, they’ve loaded up on pitching. In Atlanta they’re signing young talent to contracts that will keep them Braves long past the life of Turner Field. In Miami, they have Jose Fernandez, the subject of an adoring Sports Illustrated profile in which his mentor dares to compare him, rather than Matt Harvey, to Tom Seaver: “Same body, same intelligence — both aggressive, but with quiet and balance on the mound.” They’re still the Marlins, but didn’t we used to say that about the Nationals?
At the moment, the National League feels particularly top-heavy. Get past the Dodgers, Cardinals, Braves and Nationals and nobody else feels like a preseason postseason lock. If a half-decent team can cobble together a Plan B — stay vaguely viable for four months and create a little trade-deadline luck — one can envision a genuine Wild Card II bid materializing. Goodness it would be great to chase a playoff spot from March 31 onward. Imagine being in the market for that one additional piece on July 28 instead of somebody trying to convince us how healthy it will be for our self-esteem that we’re gonna spend August and September lunging toward .500 until that ad-hoc goal slips inevitably into the sunset.
Up Flushing way, where the facility is regularly fuller than the one in Florida and doesn’t seem noticeably emptier than the one in Georgia (including at playoff time), we’re told that if we don’t get our asses to more games, you ingrates can forget more money being spent on more players. At least that’s how it sounds when the general manager suggests “ya get what ya pay for” to season-ticket holders on the eve of Pitchers & Catchers, a stance that comes off as nervy to express no matter how sensibly it plays in a vacuum.
Don’t send out more than you take in? It’s a fairly basic business principle, which is perfectly reasonable to invoke until you remember the Mets aren’t the humble dry cleaners up the block trying to squeeze out a livable profit. They’re a Major League Baseball franchise in New York whose annual goal, you grew up believing, was to pursue a championship.
I miss the days when it was assumed teams tried to win every season even when they had no great shot nor the deepest well of resources. Sandy Alderson — the man who has brought us Zack Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard and Vic Black if not as much as a 78th win in a given year yet —knows how to present his opaqueness in the most transparent manner possible. He doesn’t make a show of holding his metaphorical cards close to his vest. So when he says “our goal is to try to make the team as good as it can be for this season. I think we’ve gotten pretty close to achieving what we hoped to,” it’s hard to not infer short-term resignation has edged out urgency yet again where the franchise that hasn’t legitimately competed in six years is concerned.
Dice-K at his most Trachsellian works faster than that.
Winning isn’t framed as mandatory. Trying like crazy to win isn’t necessary. Nodding silently that it’s not worth trying, but give it a couple of years and it will be fantastic — that’ll be plenty adequate for now.
Thus, we are left to shuffle the tantalizing hopefuls among the proven mediocrities and cross our fingers that we can draw a few extra wins from the deck. We have pitchers who we’re holding off fully unleashing until 2015 and players who you thought would’ve been moved along after 2013. Somewhere in the middle is 2014, perhaps infused with the wherewithal to pump up the present…but probably not. Loans are allegedly being restructured, television windfalls are supposedly landing, Stephen Drew and Nick Franklin are names that loiter on the margins of possibility, yet until further notice, the Mets we have are the Mets we have.
Sometimes the most effective way to improve a team is by removing its lesser players and replacing them with better players. That’s not wholly the Mets’ style right now. If it was, Tejada and Davis (and probably Duda) would be telling somebody else’s beat reporter that as much as they enjoyed being Mets, this change of scenery they’ve received is exactly what they needed. And maybe we’d be giddily constructing lineups in our heads while pretending to pay attention as somebody who isn’t a Mets fan talks something other than baseball to us.
The Mets we have will be enough for exhibition purposes. We’ll be so delighted to see them in anything approximating action that we’ll squeal at the televised sight of them. That’ll last two, maybe three games. Then the pitchers at whom we figure to ooh and aah will be whisked to the minor league side of St. Lucie and we’ll be left to sort through the assets we know plenty well. Barring trades and signings you’d guess would have been made by now, we’ll satisfy ourselves with the notion that this year is one year closer to the year after.
Consider my expectations managed.
There are no guarantees in baseball (just as there are no “slam dunks” or “no-brainers”), but I guess you can make a promise. Sick kids have been known to return to good health on promises of home runs hit in their name — not just in the movies and Felix Unger-produced radio serials, either — and at least one free agent outfielder signed on the dotted line after he was made a promise…and, y’know, offered $7.25 million.
It stuck out among the offseason platitudes I was jotting down at the Mets’ holiday party when Sandy Alderson mentioned that “we promised Chris Young some at-bats.” I’ve heard him say it in other venues, too. I wondered how that would work and what that meant exactly. What is “some”? How many ABs fulfills what was “promised”? Does an April average of .200, which is what CY2 batted as an Athletic for all of last year, render the promise null and void? And though it may be just baseball semantics, it’s a little intriguing that the general manager of the ballclub that stresses hitters working counts and values walks as much as hits doesn’t say “we promised Chris Young some plate appearances” instead.
Of course Young could come out smoking like a Seventh Avenue office worker on a mid-morning break and nobody would have to be reminded to keep any playing-time promises because he’d never be removed from the lineup. John Buck wasn’t made any specific promises of playing time that were mentioned publicly. Buck was the starting catcher by universal pre-d’Arnaud acclamation and he commenced to own April of 2013 lock, stock and RBI barrel. Then May, June and July evicted his bat from the premises of effectiveness, but hardly ever from Terry Collins’s immediate plans, save for the occasional breather or baby.
Geez. It seems the Mets have been stuck in the mud so long that I’m now reflexively wary of new guys getting off to blazing starts because I just assume they won’t keep it up and then the whole thing will sink into more mud. Chris Young hasn’t had one AB or PA yet and I’m wondering what can go wrong — besides Juan Lagares’s glorious glove going unused for uncomfortable stretches. Apologies in advance to CY2, who should at least get the meaningless exhibition schedule under his belt before I grow precautionarily discouraged about his Met tenure.
I think I’m in backlash mode against my long-held instinct to automatically embrace former All-Stars joining the Mets. Chris Young is a former All-Star, even if I had no idea who he was when he made the N.L.’s stellar squad in 2010, and that should be enough to earn him February goodwill. But, oh gosh, so much “former” in those former All-Stars and too often so little left when they join the Mets. The lesson that credentials aren’t necessarily transferable to imminent Metsian success had to be learned and relearned many times over before I began to figure out that bit about no guarantees. It probably didn’t finally kick in until the Mets traded for 2010 A.L. All-Star catcher John Buck in December 2012 and I managed to keep my enthusiasm in check.
My first hint of how these things can go and, more frustratingly, how they can stall was probably dropped in my youthful lap when the Mets went out and bagged themselves a six-time All-Star to fill a glaring positional void and most of what it took to obtain him was a pitcher who sometimes threw as if the strike zone was in the next county.
That transaction was better known as Jim Fregosi for Nolan Ryan. Out of respect for Fregosi — someone acknowledged far and wide upon news of his passing last week as a great baseball man in every sense of the phrase — let’s just say it was a heckuva trade for the California Angels.
Six-time All-Star? To the Mets? Excitement was in the air.
In the months before it revealed itself as kinda the opposite for the New York Mets, there was no guarantee that Fregosi, the premier American League shortstop of the 1960s, was going to solve the Mets’ perennial third base shortcomings, which was the organizational plan in December 1971, but he arrived with an outsize reputation and it was at the very least promising to imagine a name of Fregosi’s caliber wedged in among the Joneses, the Agees, the Grotes and the Harrelsons to whom we were accustomed by the spring of 1972. Then the Mets traded a few kids for another former All-Star, Rusty Staub, and it appeared we had a genuine major league lineup on our hands. By May, the Mets would acquire the most glittering All-Star there ever was, Willie Mays, and now it felt like were stacked.
We were. The Mets roared into late May, cresting at 25-7 and leading the N.L. East by six games. One of the reasons they heated up was Jim Fregosi, who, despite a nagging Spring Training injury and his own sense that he was done as an everyday player, shook off a chilly April and contributed a sizzling seven-game span in which he hit .462, drove in a half-dozen runs and lifted his season average over .300.
That was basically it for Fregosi and the Mets in 1972 when it came to meeting expectations. The team fell back to third place and Jim wouldn’t last through 1973 in New York, while Ryan…ah, hell, you know what happened with Ryan. For that matter, one of the three additional throw-ins to the Angels, Leroy Stanton, accumulated 101 hits in ’72, which isn’t remarkable except it was five more than any Met collected that same season. There were a lot of injuries on that club. There was also, sad to say, more than a dollop of used-to-be in that lineup.
Fregosi’s career got back on a righteous path once he left the Mets. He’d be considered a valuable pinch-hitter type for a few years, manage Ryan and the Angels to their first division title, run the White Sox between Tony La Russa and Jeff Torborg, lead a most colorful Phillies squad to an improbable pennant and keep the Blue Jays very respectable amid the heat of the hypercompetitive A.L. East. After managing, he served as a top major league scout for the Braves, who you might have noticed have been more than pretty good for a very long time.
No, it didn’t work out for Jim Fregosi, New York Mets third baseman. But it was exciting thinking it might.
WOR still hasn’t found a pregame host for Mets baseball, but that — in case the name doesn’t give it away — is only about what happens before the game starts. Before the game starts doesn’t count. Just like Spring Training. Just like all the talk that fires up the Hot Stove.
It doesn’t count that Clear Channel and the Mets dragged their corporate feet from the end of September to the middle of February before making official that Howie Rose and Josh Lewin would continue to do what they’ve done so well. It’s unfortunate that it took that long for internal machinations to play out, but the important thing is they played out to an agreeable result. When the Mets begin to play in search of the most agreeable results of all, it will be Howie and Josh maintaining their half of the best broadcasting tradition in baseball.
You know what I’m talking about. We’ve heard it uninterrupted since 1962. It’s why we were so sorry to lose Ralph Kiner and are so gratified that the Mets have announced steps to pay him the tribute he deserves this season. It’s why even the hardest-to-take Mets games have made for easy listening. Howie and Josh are strong links in the chain that extend back to the beginning, deeply resonant voices speaking on our behalf. They know what we’re thinking because they’re thinking it, too. They know what we want to know and they tell us.
We already knew they’d be happy to be certified for 2014 and hopefully many years beyond, but it’s nice to read it in their own words before they take to 710 AM to tell it to us personally. It seems appropriate that Howie would go through a solid sports media columnist like Newsday’s Neil Best to express his enthusiasm for continuity at a new Met frequency while Josh would start a blog in order to thank the fans from the bottom of his ever audible heart and offer to buy us a beverage in appreciation of our collective support. They are who they are individually and they’re something else together.
I don’t need a drink. I need a Mets game, even one that doesn’t count. Here’s to the fact that one is coming to a radio near us in just over a week. Here’s to the fact it’s those two who will be bringing us every pitch.