Tag Archives: New York Mets

Setting the annual Baseball Solstice

IMG_5776With the temperature flirting with 70 degrees today here in New Jersey, I’m aching for baseball even as I acknowledge we must endure weeks of winter before we hear “Play ball!” again.

So it’s high time to announce the annual Baseball Solstice, that precise point between the final out of the World Series and the first pitch of exhibition games renewing America’s Pastime for the next season.

The 2015 series ended at 12:30 a.m. EDT on Nov. 2 in New York as Wilmer Flores of the Mets struck out and the Kansas City Royals celebrated the end of a 30-year championship drought.

Those of us pulling for the Mets must wait till next year, in humiliating fashion for me as my sisters-in-law in the Kansas City area expressed their love by sending me a box full of Royals duds and swag.

It will be March 1 when we again hear the crack of the bat in the first handful of Grapefruit League games in Florida and one in the Cactus League in Arizona. (Follow Countdown to Spring Training for a daily dose of encouragement.)

That makes for an interval of 119 days, and thus we must fix the solstice on January 1, 2016, the first day of the new year on the secular calendar observed by fans of football, hockey, basketball, soccer and squash.

But we baseball fans know the day belongs to us.

So get out there that day and play some catch with someone you love or like (yes, even somebody in Dodger blue). Read some Roger Angell. Or watch a DVD showing highlights (singular, if you’re a Phillies fan) of your team’s 2015 season.

As the offseason deals continue to scramble rosters and cruelly give hope to Cubs fans, there’s no need for speculating on which team will prevail in 2016. It’s an even year, and it’s bye, bye baby: The San Francisco Giants will take it all.

 

 

 

 

 

Marking the Baseball Solstice with a list of Top 10 moments

To mark the Baseball Solstice, I’ve been contemplating the greatest moments in baseball history. A number of these came to mind instantly, a few of them took a bit more prodding of the memory banks.

This list is strictly my own reckoning on this date. Ask me in a few weeks or a few months, and some of the items may change — although the top three to five would likely stick.

10. The Amazin’ Mets win the 1969 World Series. The expansion Mets were a miserable franchise in the 1960s (no comment on subsequent decades) and their defeat of the Orioles was as exhilirating as it was surprising. I should note that I was rooting for the Orioles, yet even as a kid I thought the Mets were quite the story.

9. Cal RIpken breaks Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played. Gehrig’s once unassailable record fell when Cal took the field that night, an event that connected the glory days of the past to what was then the present day.

8. Billy Buckner boots the grounder at first base. The Red Sox were oh so close to breaking the curse of the Bambino, and then Buckner let the ball go between his legs. It would be several more years before the Red Sox would finally win their first World Series  since the first decade of the century.

7. The George Brett pine tar bat incident. Never have I seen anything so uproariously funny during a baseball game. Brett charged from the dugout like a demon, screaming bloody murder. Later it came out that Billy Martin had waited for the ultimate moment to call the pine tar violation, which makes the incident even funnier.

6. Who’s On First? OK, so this isn’t a real baseball moment. But Abbot and Costello’s classic routine underscores baseball’s relevance in American culture better than anything.

5. Babe Ruth calls his shot. We know that “Who’s on First” was made up, but the Ruth legend is somewhere in between fact and fiction. That the famous gesture to center field was issued in a Yankees’ defeat of the Cubs in the World Series tells me without a doubt it really happened.

4. Lou Gehrig’s “luckiest man” farewell address. This sad yet sweet moment under the echoing arches of Yankee Stadium is undeniably one of the great ones. It’s a reminder of the nobility of man, and that baseball can break your heart.

3. Roger Maris hits his 61st home run. Through all the relentless pressure he faced, Maris still managed to launch home run No. 61 off Tracy Stallard in 1961. He broke Babe Ruth’s single-season record that day. And he did it witout any hint of performance-enhancing drugs.

2. Willie Mays catch at the Polo Grounds. In Game One of the 1954 World Series, Vic Wertz ripped a monster drive into cavernous center field. Mays raced straight back and brought the ball to earth and, his cap flying off, hurls the ball back toward the plate. The Indians, the winningest regular-season team ever, were toast and lost to the Giants in four straight.

1. The Shot Heard ‘Round the World.  Bobby Thompson smacked a home run off Brooklyn’s Ralph Branca to give the Giants a victory in the final of a three-game playoff series to determine the National League champion. It was the ultimate “walk-off” moment, immortalized by Russ Hodges’ radio call: “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”

Who’s worth more? A baseball player or the doctor keeping your wife or child alive?

I opened the papers this morning to read about the Seattle Mariners giving Robinson Cano a 10-year contract for $240 million. The New York Mets apparently have agreed to give Curtis Granderson $60 million over four years. And there was the Jacoby Ellsbury deal with the New York Yankees earlier in the week: 7 years, $153 million.

For these ballplayers who have combined talent and hard work to reach such stratospheric salaries, I say, “Well done.”

But whenever baseball or other sports go through the off-season ritual of courtship by checkbook, I try to get a bit of perspective on what our society is saying in the way we reward sports figures.

Is a first baseman — with an average annual salary of $5.4 millionten 100 times as valuable to society as a high school teacher  — with an average annual salary of $54,000 — inspiring your child?

Is a shortstop — with an average annual salary of $3 million — ten times as valuable to society as an oncologist — with an average annual salary of $278,000 — treating your wife or husband for cancer?

Questioning the relative value of sports heroes to those serving the public is hardly new. Babe Ruth is famously remembered for his answer when asked about wanting to get paid more than President Herbert Hoover: “I had a better year than he did.” I imagine that even way back in the Roman republic, some people pondered the public adulation heaped on gladiators against the physicians of the day.

I still remember a section of a college economics textbook that did an academic proof  that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was worth every penny the Los Angeles Lakers were paying him in the 1970s. Kareem brought people into the arena and had a huge influence on broadcast revenues, q.e.d.

Certainly, pro athletes enrich our lives as they provide marvelous entertainment. I’ve been thrilled to see Ozzie Smith acrobatically turn a double play from short and been crushed to see Billy Buckner watch a grounder go between his legs at first. There’s even value in sports in occasionally seeing the games as morality plays on good versus evil (Red Sox v. Yankees, or vice versa, depending on your accent).

Yet no matter how much I love the game and how much economic sense it makes to pay the players, I still value more the doctors and nurses and teachers and coaches who care for us.

Just a flesh wound: Some thoughts on baseball at mid-season

Wow, have I been a baseball blogging phantom this season. I cringe at the mere thought of checking the date on my last post, which itself was weeks and weeks after the previous post.

My lack of posting doesn’t mean I haven’t been a fully engaged baseball fan. In fact, I’ve watched plenty of games this season with a wider variety of teams than I have for a long, long time. So the headlines:

– What the devil is ailing my San Francisco Giants? I knew their pitching staff couldn’t sustain the level of excellence they’ve shown in recent years. The streak of good-arm years was bound to end sooner or later, but I’m befuddled that all have seemingly broken down at once. Tim Lincecum has been slipping the past two seasons; Barry Zito somehow beat the odds last year but has reverted to monster-contract form; Ryan Vogelsong is out injured. The shocker to me is that Matt Cain has faltered.  Only Madison Bumgarner has been consistently strong. Not a pretty picture, and I’m not even going to get into the bullpen.

– Perhaps even more shocking with the Giants is their crumbling defense. Please, give me back the light hitting, good fielding Brandon Crawford at shortstop of recent vintage, not this year’s porous model.

– Amid the cellar-scraping doom, one of the all-time highlights for the franchise was Lincecum’s no-hitter. I was blissfully asleep on my Eastern time zone mattress while Timmy was dominating the Padres. I woke up to the news on the MLB app on my iPhone and when I saw the video replay of the last pitch, I cried. Yes, tears at 6 a.m. Three-Finger Brown could record the times I’ve cried over baseball: Timmy’s no-no, the Indians advancing to the World Series in 1995, and when the Tribe traded away Rocky Colavito when I was a little kid in Cleveland.

– (I’m putting this item well down into the post, so as not to shock too many people.) I’ve kind of got a thing for the New York Mets. Matt Harvey is winning me over, I’m digging the underdog schtick and I’ve come to enjoy the broadcast teams on radio and TV. I’m not abandoning the Giants, but the Mets are moving up on my preference list.

– They try gamely, but I don’t consider the 2013 edition a real New York Yankees team. Mariano’s victory lap not withstanding, there are too many so-so players on the injury-plagued team. It’s the Dooley Womack era all over again.

– I try to get behind the Phillies, I really do. But their fans seem to have written them off and I can’t stand that. I have a Monty Python Black Knight approach to backing my ball club. The Phillies fans (and I’m over-generalizing here; I know there are plenty of Fightin’ faithfuls) are more like Sir Robin, running away.

– And how about those Cleveland Indians?! They’re hanging with the Tigers and playing solid, entertaining baseball. I was lucky enough to catch them in Cleveland back in June, the only big-league game I’ve seen in person this year. I’m hoping for good things ahead.

– Final word: If the Giants can’t make it back to the series, my wish is for an Indians-Pirates tilt. That would be special (that underdog schtick again), save maybe for network executives. All the more reason.

 

The Mets honor Mariano, and then defeat him

The New York radio airwaves are abuzz over how the Mets did the improbable last night and scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning off Mariano Rivera to beat the Yankees 2-1.
It was a stunning victory — the second in as many nights at Citi Field — and even more amazin’ because the Metropolitans had honored Rivera at the start of the game and had him throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

While Rivera is unquestionably worthy of all laurels, I found the Mets’ decision to honor him during the Subway Series a curious one.

Rivera is a New York sports icon, but he’s a Yankee. He wears pinstripes. Always has. He has a fistful of World Series rings. He’s the anti-Met.

Would something like this happen elsewhere? I can’t see the Cubs or White Sox honoring anyone from the other Chicago nine, and the Dodgers would never be in the business of honoring Angles (or Giants!).

The Mets’ brass evidently decided honoring Rivera would be a classy move. But that’s where the class ended.

Jeff Wilpon, the Mets’ chief operating officer, told Rivera before the game that he didn’t expect the Mets to make the World Series this year. I don’t care what your team’s record is. You don’t publicly announce that you don’t expect your team to fail, certainly not this early in the season.

Maybe Wilpon was trying to mess with Rivera’s head, to distract him with an honor so that the Mets would force him to blow a save. That, however, would require a bit of baseball acumen at a level totally lacking from Mets leadership the last decade or two.

This year’s spring training caps are hideous

Let me repeat that headline: This year’s spring training baseball caps are hideous.

As my long blogging layoff will attest, I’ve paid little heed to the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues these past few weeks. So what I saw on a television set in a neighborhood shop a short while ago hit me harder than it might have otherwise. On the tube was a Tigers-Mets game. When I saw the Mets’ caps, I blanched.

From a distance, they look like something for a beer league softball team. On closer inspection, there’s Mr. Met running the bases — in the wrong direction. (Yeah, it’s the Mets, so why should I be surprised?)

I was vaguely aware of the unveiling of these new cap models when they were announced a couple of months back but I didn’t pay attention. After doing a Google search for images of the new caps, I wish I’d skipped the spring altogether.

The white-billed Yankees’ caps may be the worst of the lot. Or maybe it’s the egg-splatter Tampa Bay Rays model. All in all, these caps look like they belong on sale by street vendors in the seedier sections of any number of Rust Belt cities.

I started this blog based on my love of baseball caps, but I have standards. Most of these spring training caps are devoid of artistic merit and devalue the brands of the teams they represent. The teams see this merchandising as a profit center, which is why there’s a continuous stream of new models.

Sorry, MLB. I ain’t buying.

 

 

A season without a seat in the stands

I’m looking back on the 2012 season and realizing that this is one of those rare years in which I didn’t see a major league baseball game in person.

Having switched jobs and coasts in May, I left California before having a chance to see the Giants or Athletics play at home. My two cross-country drives to get our cars out east were too hurried to route by way of a big-league stadium. And once I got east for good, I never found the time to run down to Philadelphia or head up to New York to catch the Phillies, Yankees or Mets.

I managed to catch plenty of games on TV, radio and especially on the MLB app on my iPhone. I did get to see one minor league game on each coast, the Nuts in Modesto and the Thunder in Trenton. Thank goodness for that.

Also on the plus side, we finally got ourselves high-definition TV this summer, and it’s been great to see those major league parks come alive on the screen in our family room.

But as for seeing a game live and in person, I’ll have to invoke the eternal cry of Cubs fans: Wait ’til next year!

[Note: This post was composed during the baseball playoffs but I never posted it until now.]