Category: Opinions

Mets Sunday Brunch 4/1/18: The Kings of Opening Day and Remembering “Le Grande Orange”

By Paul DiSclafani

HO-HUM, ANOTHER OPENING DAY WIN

It’s not that the Mets won their first two games of the season, although that is unusual, it’s how they won them that has been impressive.  They won them with offense, good starting pitching and even better bullpen work.  Not a lot to complain about when you start 2-0 against a good team like the Cardinals.

Although the Mets won a World Series before they ever won an Opening Day game, since 1970 they are an incredible 32-17 on Day 1.  Unfortunately, during that same stretch, they are 24-25 in Game 2.  So we expected them to win Game 1 and would hold our breath for Game 2.

But this team feels different.  Not only that, we are seeing things being done with the bullpen that are not formulaic and would make former manager Terry Collins’ head spin.

On Opening Day, the Mets scored nine runs without a home run on seven singles and nine walks.  In a game that last year Collins would have used six pitchers, new manager Mickey Calloway previewed how he was going to handle the pitchers.  After the Mets broke the game open in the bottom of the fifth to take an 8-3 lead, Calloway stayed with Noah Syndergaard in the top of the sixth.  Syndergaard had thrown 75 pitches over the first five innings and on a cold afternoon and the first start of the season, there is no way Collins allows Syndergaard to start the sixth with a huge lead.  But Syndergaard, although he gave up a home run, got out of the inning with just 10 pitches and his afternoon was complete – and a bullpen inning was saved.

Calloway then went to Robert Gsellman, who struck out the side.  Anthony Swarzak then got a 1-2-3 eighth inning.  Do you really believe that Collins wouldn’t have pulled one of them at some point for a righty-lefty switch, burning Blevins for just one batter?

On Saturday, Calloway did something Collins never would have even considered.  He let both Gsellman and Swarzak finish one inning and start another.  Not unheard of, but certainly not part of the Collins and Dan Warthen playbook.  Why not stay with a guy who pitched out of a jam and keep that momentum going?

And then there is the lineup.  After Brandon Nimmo was on base four out of five times on Opening Day, Juan Lagares started in Center for Game 2.  Asdrubal Cabrera, who was the only position player without a hit on Opening Day, was moved from cleanup to lead off.  Catcher Kevin Plawecki hit a home run on Opening Day, but Travis d’Arnaud started Game 2.  Raise your hand if you think Terry Collins would have used the same starting lineup after a rousing win when both starting pitchers were right handed.  You bet he would have.

Instead, Lagares gets two hits, Cabrera goes 3-5 and d’Arnaud hits a home run.

Hats off to Calloway and whatever he is doing.  He has this team playing hard, running the bases, catching the ball and being aggressive on the mound.  Maybe we are going to have a lot of fun this season?

REMEMBERING LE GRANDE ORANGE

NOTE:  A few weeks ago, when we first learned he was sick, I published this regarding Rusty Staub.  Due to his passing on Thursday, I thought I would run it again for those who may have missed it.

Any Mets fan from my generation knows that Rusty Staub was “Le Grande Orange”.  He was a player that did not know the word “quit”, but is now fighting perhaps his last battle in a hospital down in Florida.  Staub’s kidneys are failing due to a staph infection.  Hopefully his condition will continue to improve.

Staub, now 73, played 23 season for five different teams, including two stints as a Met.  In his first tour of duty, from 1972-1975, he helped the Mets recover from their post 1969 World Championship fog by becoming a dynamic, yet injury plagued player and leading them back to the World Series in 1973.  Many younger Mets fans may remember Staub as one of the best pinch hitters in the game when he returned for his final tour from 1981-85.

Most of us will never forget his heroic performance in the 1973 playoffs.  In the first three games of the National League Championship series against the powerhouse Cincinnati Reds, Staub had already hit three home runs and driven in five.  In the 11th inning of Game 4, he tracked down a long fly ball from Dan Drieesen in Right Field at Shea, robbing him of an extra-base hit, making a spectacular catch and crashing into the wall, separating his right shoulder.  He missed the Pennant clinching Game 5 and sat out Game One of the World Series against Oakland.  Then, separated shoulder and all, he returned for Game 2, even though he couldn’t throw the ball overhand.  Out in Right Field, Staub had to flip the ball underhanded to a teammate when he fielded it.

How do you hit with a separated shoulder, you might ask?  Staub still managed to hit .423 against the A’s, driving in six runs and even somehow managing a home run in the World Series.  In just 10 post season games – six of them with a separated shoulder – Staub managed four home runs, 11 RBI and batted .341.

It was one of the most heroic performances I have ever seen on a baseball field, where players have to sometimes sit out a few games for a hang-nail.  Staub, who played three seasons in his first tour with the expansion Montreal Expos from 1972-75, would have made a great hockey player.  Staub earned the nickname of “Le Grande Orange” for his hair color while with the Expos and was so popular, he was the first player to have a number retired by the franchise.

Later in his career, he returned to the Mets in 1981 and became a player-coach in 1982.  He was strictly a pinch hitter, but in 1983, he did tie two Major League Records; eight consecutive pinch hits and 25 RBI as a pinch hitter.  To cap off that amazing 1983 season, he hit a home run in his last AB and finished at exactly .300.

Some other Rusty Staub tidbits:

  • He is the only player to amass 500 hits for four (4) different teams and finished his career with 2,716 hits
  • He is the first Mets player to have 100 RBI in a season, finishing with 105 in 1975.  Gary Carter ted it in 1986 and Darryl Strawberry broke it in 1990 (108).
  • In his only injury free season (1974), he led the Mets in hits, RBI and AB’s
  • He was traded from the Houston Colt 45’s to Montreal prior to the 1969 season for Don Clendenon and Jesus Alou.  Clendenon threatened to retire from baseball rather than accept a trade to Houston because he didn’t get along with their new manager, Harry Walker, whom he considered a racist.  Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn then ruled Clendenon could stay in Montreal and the Expos amended the deal.  Clendenon was traded to the Mets in June of that season and became a hero in our World Series run that season.
  • He played in the Major Leagues at just 19 years-old and is one of only two players to hit a home run before turning 20 and after turning 40.
  • With Detroit in 1978, he became the first player in baseball history to play all 162 games as a designated history and drove in 121 runs.
  • In his 23 years, he was on base 4,050 times – more than Rogers Hornsby or Tony Gwynn.

Of course, he became an even more beloved figure after his career with the “Rusty Staub Foundation”, founding the “New York Police and Fireman Widows’ and Children Benefit Fund”, raising more than $11 million prior to 9/11/2001 and more than $122 million after that.

NOTE:  According to his brother, Staub experienced a heart condition while playing golf earlier in the week and died of a heart attack just after midnight on Opening Day of the baseball season.  The Mets will be wearing a black circle patch with Rusty’s signature in orange on the sleeve of their home and away jersey.  For the first two games of the season, they hung Staub’s #10 jersey in the dugout as a tribute.

THIS AND THAT…

So if Nimmo and Lagares are off to good starts, what do we do if Michael Conforto is ready to come back next week? … Not completely sold on this pitcher-batting-eighth thing, but it seems to be working.  Hitting Cespedes #2 has also worked out.  Statistics show that the #2 batter gets the most RBI opportunities in the lineup.  Don’t believe that, just ask Derek Jeter … Todd Frazier plays a nice third base … After two games, Robert Gsellmen has more AB’s than Jose Reyes … Mets sporting a .512 On Base Percentage in first two games with 23 hits, 14 walks and a handful of HBP … The Bullpen has combined for 6.1 innings (between Gsellmen, Swarzak and Familia) for 3 hits, 1 R and 10 K … Adrian Gonzalez has been on base five times in 10 plate appearances … Best statistic of the first two games?  No errors … Nice to see David Wright being announced to the crowd during the Opening Day ceremonies.  He looked a little gaunt, but it was a touching moment between the fans of this franchise and Wright.  He gave us everything he had when he could.  If this is the last time we could cheer him as a player, so be it.  Mike Piazza may have been one of the best players we have ever had, but Wright and Tom Seaver are the only two players that could be labeled “Franchise” players.  They were ours from the beginning and we loved them from the beginning.  My generation had Tom Terrific and my kids generation had David Wright.  Good luck, David.  We’re pulling for you…

Paul DiSclafani is a featured writer on “A View From The Bench”, which has been recognized by Major League baseball as one of the top 100 blog sites.

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Some Fresh Ideas To Solve The Extra Inning Problem

By Paul DISCLAFANI

I really wanted to hate the notion of putting two runners on base to start the 11th inning that happened in the World Baseball Classic.  MLB is using a modified rule to be tried out in the low-level minors this season.  Most baseball purists gag at the thought of such a gimmick to help decide a game that is tied after “regulation”.

Although MLB is looking on ways to speed up the pace of games, that’s not the reason to do this.  Let’s face it, baseball is not hockey or football or even basketball.  Those sports allow for free substitution during the contest.  They don’t lose players as the game goes along unless they are ejected from the contest for some sort of grievous assault.

The nature of baseball requires that once a player leaves the game, he is not eligible to return under any circumstance.  Therefore, the idea of playing “extra” innings to result a game becomes a nightmare for managers who have most likely done everything possible to get their team past the ninth inning.

Hockey continues to “tweak” their regular season overtime rules to not only protect their players from fatigue issues that could come with a full 20-minute overtime or possible multiple overtime periods.  But they also want to help ensure that a team doesn’t just use the overtime to prevent a goal from being scored so they can get to the shoot out by playing a possession game for five minutes.  The three-on-three hockey has been some of the most exciting hockey to watch all season as it allows the teams to free skate and be creative with the puck on the massive open ice.

Football also tweaked their overtime rules to allow both teams a chance to possess the ball (although that doesn’t always happen, see Super Bowl LI).

Why not baseball?  Although hitting the ball and running the bases hasn’t changed in 150 years, the usage of pitchers certainly has.  20 years ago, baseball managers would not have already used five pitchers by the time the ninth inning came around, so there were plenty of arms left in the bullpen for 15 inning games.

And that’s the issue.  You can use a pitcher to play in the outfield when you get to the 19th inning if you have to, but if you have burned your bullpen by the 13th inning, what are you gonna do?

The purpose of extra innings is to decide a winner, right?  If the game is tied after nine innings, we keep playing until both teams have recorded three outs in a half inning.  You need pitchers to record outs.

The 16-inning game between the Mets and Marlins has been more detrimental to the Mets bullpen than the Marlins, as the Mets blew three straight games in the Marlins last at bats.  Terry Collins had already made up his mind that backup catcher Rene Rivera, who was playing first at the time, would have pitched the 17th inning and Jacob deGrom, a pitcher recovering from surgery and scheduled to start two nights later, would have to play first base.

Granted, situations like this are fun for the fans and create “classic” games remembered for ever, but are they worth it?

Today’s NY Post article by Joel Sherman intimated that baseball would be just fine if they declared the game a tie after three extra innings.  I don’t like that.  A game is a competition and a winner should always be declared.  You pay good money to watch the games, you invest a lot of time and effort into the outcome of the game, you expect a payoff – good or bad for your team.  Nobody goes home happy if the game ends in a tie.

How about some of these solutions?

  • Would the world come to an end if baseball adopted a version of the WBC rule for extra innings?  Would it be so bad that after 12 innings, you put a runner on second to start the inning?  After 15 innings, you put a runner on third to start the inning.  If both teams have the same scenario, it seems fair to me.
  • What about allowing free substitution in the field (including pitchers) during the extra innings?  This allows you to use your backup catcher without fear of not having someone to catch with an injury.  If you want to be drastic, allow the position players who were taken out of the game be brought back to their original place in the lineup.
  • What about letting the teams reset their lineups starting in the 10th inning – each team starts with top of the order?
  • How about increasing the rosters to 30 and selecting 25 for each game, allowing for “healthy scratches”?  That solves your problem for pitching the next day or two.  You can also replace yesterday’s starter with a fresh arm.
  • What about playing three extra innings and then deciding the game with a limited home run derby?  Each team picks three players and each player gets three swings.  One from Team A then one from Team B and so on – kind of like the shootout in hockey.  When one teams records more home runs than the other team has swings left, they win.

Again – I know these are gimmicks, but I am a baseball purest and can’t even stand the designated hitter, so why am I on board with this blasphemous way to end a ballgame?

Because the nature of the pitching game has changed and the game hasn’t changed with it.  When pitching was in trouble, they raised the mound.  When pitching was dominant, they lowered the mound.

Extra innings are a tax on the pitchers, not the hitters.  You have a limited number of pitchers and this generations has been bred to throw a limited number of pitches.  That’s just the way it is.  If we are not going to expand the rosters to 27 or 28 players, then we need a way to limit the strain on the bullpen during extra-inning games that go beyond 12 innings.

There are 162 regular season games and in 2013, baseball set a record with 237 extra-inning games.  From 2011-2015, teams that went to extra innings with a starter that got into the eighth inning were 109-83 (.568 winning percentage).  Teams that went to their bullpen within the first five innings were 228-264.

Time for baseball to reconsider how to end games that are tied after 27 outs, for the sake of the pitchers.

Paul DiSclafani is a featured writer on “A View From The Bench”, which has been recognized by Major League baseball as one of the top 100 blog sites.

Mets Sunday Brunch 4/16/17: You Gotta Protect The Pitchers, but Where is the Offense When You Need It?

By Paul DiSclafani

When Steve Carlton, all those many years ago, struck out 19 Mets and lost a game, the natural first question would be – How?  You would think that if you could get 19 of 27 outs without anyone putting the ball in play for those AB’s, that would be a formula for success, right?

Sprinkled in between those 19 K’s were nine hits and four walks, and the Mets cobbled together a 4-3 win.  Did I mention that Ron Swoboda hit two, two-run home runs?

Last night, Jacob deGrom tied a career high 13 strikeouts in his seven innings of work against the Marlins, leaving the bullpen to protect a 4-2 Mets lead.  DeGrom‘s only transgressions were the back-to-back solo home runs he allowed in the second inning to Justin Bour and Marcel Ozuma.

In three starts this year, deGrom has three no-decisions to go with a 1.89 ERA.

For the second consecutive night, the bullpen was not up to the task.  Fernando Salas, who has now appeared in eight of the Mets first 11 games hadn’t allowed a run in his previous seven appearances, including pitching two innings in the Mets crazy 9-8, 16-inning win on Thursday.  He allowed back-to-back home runs, turning an impressive performance by deGrom into just a footnote as the Marlins turned those four home runs into a 5-4 win.  Christian Yelich hit a 2-run home run after Salas issued a 2-out walk to Miguel Rojas to tie the game and then Giancarlo Stanton hit a moonshot on a 3-2 pitch to give the Marlins the lead, 5-4.

Who do you want to blame, Salas?  I bet you weren’t complaining when he got the first two outs of the inning.  Should we blame manager Terry Collins for going to Salas again?  Should we blame Collins for not letting deGrom come out for the eighth inning?  How about the Mets hitters?

In the first inning, after taking a 1-0 lead on Neil Walker’s RBI double, the Mets had runners on second and third against Adam Conley, then Granderson jumped on the first pitch for a line drive out that ended the inning.  The Mets didn’t get another hit until the seventh inning, when Walker reached on a bunt single.

The night before, a 3-2 loss in the ninth inning against reliever Josh Edgins, wasted another good effort by Noah Syndergaard.  Why Edgin in the ninth inning of a tied game is a question for another night.  It was the offensive effort that failed in this game too.

In the second inning, down a run 1-0, the Mets loaded the bases against Edison Volquez with two outs on consecutive walks to Jose Reyes, batting seventh and Noah Syndergaard, batting eighth.  That brought up Rene Rivera, who got ahead 2-0 an inexplicitly swung at the next pitch, ending the inning with a fly out.

The next inning, still trailing 1-0, the Mets loaded the bases against Volquez again, this time with only one out on two walks and a hit.  That brought up Michael Conforto who watched two of the first three pitches from Volquez bounce in the dirt, getting ahead in the count 3-0.  When asked by Gary Cohen if he would give Conforto the hit sign, Keith Hernandez said, “Absolutely, Volquez is all over the place.”

Conforto then reached for an outside fastball and hit a fly ball to Center that tied the game 1-1. But effectively snuffed out a big inning as Wilmer Flores, after getting ahead 2-0, grounded weakly back to the pitcher.

Here’s my two cents:

It’s 11 games into the season, there are still 151 games to go.  I understand that a win in April is just as important as a win in September.  But pitching is way more fragile than hitting and a win in September to get you over .500 doesn’t mean anything in a Division like this unless you want to fight for a one-game Wild-Card playoff all year.  Of course, when you miss the playoffs by two or three games, these are the games you look back on and lament.

This team has an offensive problem and a fielding problem.  They are not built for manufacturing runs.  There is no speed on the bases and no creativity.  Only bombs and more bombs.

I would describe their outfield as “plodding” to say the least.  And do we really need five outfielders?  The Mets dressed just 11 bench players and one of them was a second catcher.

Because they must protect those surgically repaired arms, they need to bring them along slowly and therefore, the bullpen is going to get a lot or work.  A lot of bullpen work means a lot of pitchers in the bullpen, meaning not a lot of bats left on the bench.

Maybe at this point, if we can’t get our starters into the seventh inning, we should be protecting our bullpen arms and not using everyone every night?  Can’t we find someone who can finish an entire inning or two out of the bullpen?  Maybe early April games shouldn’t be used for one batter match-ups?

Your offense is what it is at this point.  There is no help on the horizon.  Therefore, they need to better manage their bullpen or this is going to be a very long season.

THIS AND THAT

Do we need to worry about Syndergaard’s fingers?  Blisters first, and now broken fingernails? … Quirky schedule has the Mets playing only the NL East the first 24 games, including the Washington Nationals six times.  The Nats come to Citi Field this weekend.  B then, the Mets (7-5) will have played 16 games against the three teams that are supposed to be the bottom feeders of the Division:  The Phillies, Braves and Marlins.  Except those teams have won five of their 12 games against the Mets so far … A quick look at the standings show the Mets at 7-5 and only three other teams with eight wins.  The “worst” team in the league is the St. Louis Cardinals, who at 3-8 trail the Division leading Cincinnati Reds (8-4) by 4.5 games.  How long is that going to last? … Mets starters deGrom (0-0), Syndergaard (1-0) and Matt Harvey (2-0) have made eight starts and had five no-decisions.  They have allowed a combined 10 earned runs in 50 innings.  That is going to get awful annoying as the season goes along…

Paul DiSclafani is a featured writer on “A View From The Bench”, which has been recognized by Major League baseball as one of the top 100 blog sites.

Mets Sunday Brunch 4/9/17: Why Are We Playing Home Games This Early?

By Paul DiSclafani

As I sat shivering at Citi Field last night watching the Mets drop their second game in a row to the Marlins, a few thoughts came into my partially frozen brain.

I was looking at the out-of-town scoreboard and noticed that the Dodgers, who as far as I know still play in Southern California, were playing a night game in Colorado.  That was almost as ridiculous as the South Beach Miami Marlins playing up here against the Mets.

Why would Toronto, a team that plays in a dome, not be hosting a game this week?  What about Oakland, or the Anaheim Angels or even Atlanta, wouldn’t they be better hosts for early April games than Chicago, Philadelphia or Pittsburgh?

At least if they are going to make New York fans suffer through early home games in April, can we at least get the weekend games played during the day?  Can you give me one good reason – other than TV money – that the Mets and Major League Baseball are forcing Mets fans to test their loyalty by scheduling a Saturday night game followed by a Sunday night game before we even get to Tax Day?

Would it really be that much of a hardship for both the Mets and Yankees to have their home openers during the second week of the season?  It is not like both teams have never had home stands at the same time.  One team could have their Home Opener on a Monday and the other can have it on Tuesday.  Is that too much to ask?

There is a reason that football fans put up with wintry weather and inclement conditions during their season – they only get 8 home games.  That’s the nature of a football game and being a football fan.  It’s part of the experience.  Besides, most football fans attending games are getting “lubed” up in the parking lot for two hours, so mostly the temperature or the weather conditions are irrelevant.

People attending Citi Field this week (except for Opening Day) are most likely at the ball park because:

  • They got the tickets for free
  • These tickets were already part of a ticket plan they purchased (or split with someone), so they had to go
  • They live in Flushing and had nothing better to do
  • They are Uber die-hards

I am quite sure there wasn’t a high percentage of walk-up sales for any of the night games this week.  As I approached the stadium, I took the time to check the “Advanced Sale” ticket windows – it was a ghost town.  I didn’t even see any scalpers.

Please understand, in my book there is nothing like the in-game experience.  I have been going to Mets games since I was 10.  I can enjoy the game no matter what the temperature is.  You think I was going to miss any of the 2015 post season home games because it was cold?  For the record, it was REALLY cold every night.

I just think that baseball should start paying more attention to the customer experience in things that they can control, than worrying about the pace of the game and saving 15 seconds for every intentional walk.  You can’t control Mother Nature, but you can certainly avoid sticking your finger into her face and saying. “I dare you!”

THOUGHTS ON OPENING WEEK:

  • The Mets have played 48 innings in their five games and have scored runs in only eight of them. And in four of those eight innings, they scored only once.  They have just four runs in their three losses.
  • They have almost as many strikeouts (28) as hits (29). There aren’t many teams hitting worse than their .213 team average.
  • They have six starters hitting .200 or less: Granderson (.200), d’Arnaud (.200), Cespedes (.167), Duda (.167), Walker (.150) and Reyes (0.53).  Jay Bruce is hitting .250 and Asdrubal Cabrera (.286)
  • After setting a team record for home runs last year, they have just three this year.
  • The top three starters (Syndergaard, deGrom and Harvey) pitched 18.2 innings and only Harvey surrendered any runs (2 solo home runs to Matt Kemp). Out of the bullpen, Blevins, Salas, Reed and Edgin have combined for 11 shutout innings allowing just five hits and striking out 13.
  • Wheeler struggled (kind of expected) and Gsellman was brutal (not expected) and with Matz and Lugo sidelined, we will need better performances from the others or we may see more of Montero (please, no).
  • Not sure what to do with Montero, Robles and Smoker. They have combined for 8.2 innings and surrendered 8 runs on 13 hits.  More concerning are the 11 walks.  That’s 24 baserunners and only 26 outs.

THIS AND THAT:

Did you see that Tim Tebow hit a home run in his first AB for the Mets A-Ball Columbia Fireflies?  Did you also see that the very religious Tebow hit it off a guy that was drafted – wait for it – with the 666th pick?  You can’t make this stuff up.  In case you were wondering, he grounded out and struck out three times in his other four AB’s … Cespedes was robbed of a home run on Saturday night.  He changed his walk-up music to the theme from the Lion King … There were more people in the Foxwoods Lounge than actually sitting in the seats in the 300 section on Saturday … Pitcher Paul Sewals (yeah, that Paul Seward), made his major league debut on Saturday against the Marlins and gave up two runs and three hits.  At least he got an out, so he has a major league ERA (54.00) … Rafael Montero has walked six in 4.2 innings of work … Record crowd on Opening Day at Citi Field, capacity was 105% … Michael Conforto has not started a game yet, can we give Granderson and his .167 average a blow soon? … Started 2015 2-3 and then ripped off 11 in a row.  Just saying…

Paul DiSclafani is a featured writer on “A View From The Bench”, which has been recognized by Major League baseball as one of the top 100 blog s

Success Breeds Contempt

By Omar Gobby:

The Duke Blue Devils.  The New England Patriots.  The Green Bay Packers.  The St. Louis Cardinals.  The Notre Dame Fighting Irish.  The New York Yankees.  All winners.  All very much hated outside their own fan bases.

But why the hatred?  They are all programs with long-standing traditions of success.  Duke has been to 11 NCAA finals (won 5 of them).  The Packers have more titles (13) than anyone else in NFL history.  The Cardinals have been to 19 World Series (winning 11 of them).  The Irish have laid claim to at least 13 NCAA championships and 7 Heisman Trophy winners.  The Patriots have become a January fixture, making the playoffs in 14 of the last 16 seasons.  To add insult to injury, they have won 5 Super Bowl titles in that span.  And then there are the New York Yankees.  Is there a more hated team in American professional sports?  And why not hate a team that boasts more Hall of Famers  (62, if one includes broadcasters), retired numbers (19), pennants (40), and World Series titles (27!) than anyone else in MLB history?  Why all this vitriol directed at these teams? I will tell you why:  they win.  Period.

Which brings us to the Chicago Cubs.

I am a lifelong Cubs fan.  I went to my first game in 1975, watching the Cubs and Manny Trillo go down to the Atlanta Braves on a gloomy Tuesday afternoon. I ran home from school to watch the greatest regular season game from my youth.  I got excited when Bump Wills (Maury’s kid) was acquired. I got pissed when they traded Ivan DeJesus for Larry Bowa and some kid shortstop named Sandberg. I got excited every March and disappointed every August.  Same old Cubs.

And the Cubs were everyone’s lovable losers.  They had not tasted October since 1945, nor had they actually won the whole thing since 1908.  So when 1984 rolled around, I sat on the edge of my seat along with baseball fans everywhere.  It was hip to be a Cubs fan.  It was cool to pull for the underdogs.  Alas, it was not to be.

“Same Old Cubs!” was the cry going up all over.  Same old losers.  1908….1945….1969.  Those numbers haunted Cubs fans and energized people nationally.  THIS year just HAS to be the one, people muttered.  Poor Cubs cannot catch a break.

And they couldn’t.  The 1985 season opened with such promise, and then it seemed that each and every pitcher on the staff went down, in succession, with injuries.  Oh well.  “Wait’ll Next Year!” yet again.

1989. 1998.  More of the national support for Cubs teams which seemed to come from nowhere.  “Everyone” was pulling for them to win!  And that magical 1998 Home Run Race…”it brought back baseball”, as this video says.  Say what you will about the ethical issues surrounding that race, it surely did re-energize a game which was declining in popularity.  And it sure did not hurt that the Cubs were smack dab in the middle of it.  People everywhere wanted on to the Cubs bandwagon.  It was great.

2003…we all know what happened.  Next.

2007, another Cubs team “out of nowhere”.  2008, led the NL in wins (97).  And people everywhere wanted to be there for “it”…it was still cool to be a Cubs fan.  To support this sad sack cursed Cubs team.

2015.  An improved team, built from the ground up by architects Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and, to a lesser extent, Jim Hendry.  A team meant to contend a few years down the line.  But they didn’t want to wait.  That hungry and young team went out and won 97 games and made it to the NLCS, bowing out against the New York Mets.  This seemed to be just the Same Old Cubs, yet again.

We all know what happened in 2016.  And something changed.  All those people who wanted to see the end of the longest drought in American Professional Sports stopped for a moment.  This was not an out of nowhere team.  This was not a fluke win.  This is a young team, with all its top stars under control for a few years. The tables have turned.  The Cubs are universally recognized as the top team in the game, and there are already rumblings and grumblings about that.  Cardinals and White Sox fans have their ire directed at all things Cub these days, and that trend will only grow.

I have told anyone who will listen that my biggest goal, as a Cubs fan, is to have my team be hated the way the Yankees are hated.  Because people are disgusted by a winner.  They want the underdog.  After 108 years of being everyone’s underdog, I am ecstatic that the Cubs are the favorites, and look to remain there for the foreseeable future.

 

“It Gets By Buckner!!”

By Paul DiSclafani:

bill-bucknerIt’s been 30 years since Bob Murphy made that iconic call, describing one of the most improbably plays in the most improbable World Series game in the most improbable post season for the Mets. October 25th, 1986.

It was a season of domination for the Mets, winning 108 regular season games. But they almost blew their NLDS playoff series with the Houston Astros, having to win one game by a Lenny Dykstra home run in the bottom of the ninth inning, another in extra innings with a Gary Cater base hit and still another in extra innings by scoring three in the top of the ninth of Game 6 to tie the game before having to play seven extra innings.  That Game 6 would have been the greatest post season game in Mets history, except that about 10 days later they played another Game 6 for the ages.

It will forever be the Bill Buckner game.

I know that you can google the video of the TV broadcast, or the highlights of that game and enjoy Vin Scully’s call of the final play, but if you can find the video to go along with Bob Murphy’s call, that should be a national treasure.  If you can’t, I’d like to remind you of his call in the bottom of the 10th inning.

If you are a Mets fan, you know the story by now, the legend of Game 6. If you are a young Mets fan, you have seen the videos and heard the stories.  I am sure there are much more than the 56,000 people who were actually at the game who say they were there.  I wish I was one of them, but I wasn’t.

I was at Game 3 and Game 5 of the NLDS vs Houston, and I was there when they won it all in Game 7 – That’s a story for another day.

But I wanted to talk about Game 6 and re-live that last inning with a thank you to Bob Murphy. You see, I was watching that game on TV with my cousin Sal and we couldn’t stand listening to Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola anymore because all they were talking about was how long it had been since the Red Sox had won a World Series.

We needed to do something to change things up, so we put towels over our heads, under our Mets hats for our “Rally Caps” (that’s what we did back in 1986), turned down the TV volume and put on Bob Murphy’s radio call.  You know that you can’t do that anymore because the TV images are on a delay now and the radio voices don’t synch up anymore?

After Dave Henderson hit that home run to lead off the top of the 10th to give the Red Sox a 4-3 lead, let’s face it, it didn’t look good. When they tacked on another run to make it 5-3, it really didn’t look good.  These Mets were supposed to be the team of destiny.  These Mets were dominant all year and now we were going to lose the freaking World Series, to a team that hadn’t won one since 1918?  Come on.

But there we were, just three outs away from the single most disappointing moment in the history of a franchise that has had a number of disappointing moments.

Rally Caps and Bob Murphy – we didn’t have anything else we could do.

Wally Backman flied out weakly to left and Keith Hernandez flied out to center. And just like that, it was about to be over.  The stadium scoreboard even briefly flashed a “Congratulations Boston Red Sox, 1986 World Champions” graphic.

Gary Carter was our last hope. And Bob Murphy was right there with us…

“Line Drive, it’ll be a base hit to left field.”

Always the consummate professional broadcaster, not only capturing the emotion in his voice, but to the final play, describing every detail of the play and painting the picture in words for the blind radio audience. Only we were getting to watch it unfold as he described it.

That brought up rookie Kevin Mitchell to pinch hit. It was rumored that Mitchell was in the clubhouse at the time and had to rush back to dugout and grab a bat.  He delivered and so did Murphy…

“And a line drive, base hit to center field. Now the tying runs will be on base.”

And so they were. Mitchell’s hit moved Carter into scoring position and brought up Ray Knight.  Maybe something was happening here after all.  Now we were paralyzed and by order of baseball superstition code 235.7, unable to move or speak for fear of jinxing the situation.

As Knight stepped into the box, I was thinking three-run home run or bases clearing double to tie the game. Knight just wanted to keep the line moving.  Murphy wanted to keep it moving too, as his voice grew more and more excited as the play developed.

“A soft line drive, it’ll be a base hit into center field! Carter will score and Mitchell will go to third – a base hit by Ray Knight!”

That brought Boston Manager John McNamara out to the mound to replace the former Met Calvin Shiraldi and bring in Bob Stanley to face Mookie Wilson.

With the tying run just 90 feet away now with Mitchell on third, I just had a feeling he was going to throw one in the dirt. Mookie had an epic at bat against Stanley, fouling off pitch after pitch and working the 2-2 count for seven pitches.  How many times could the Red Sox be one strike away from winning the World Series?

Then I broke my silence and yelled something to the effect of, “throw one to the backstop, you SOB”. And he did.  And Murphy made the call, repeating it each time for emphasis.

“The pitch… It gets away! It gets away!!  Here comes Mitchell, here comes Mitchell !!   Tie game!!!!”

Oh My Goodness, what a feeling of relief. That was all we were praying for, tying the game.  At least that was all I was praying for.  I knew that tying the game meant we would win it in the next inning and live to play Game 7.

At first I thought that Wilson had been hit by the pitch, but quickly realized that I was glad he didn’t get hit because the run would not have scored. What I hadn’t really taken the time to process, was that the Wild Pitch allowed Knight to advance to second.  Now a base hit wins the game.

Wilson fouled off two more pitches before sending that little roller down the first base line for what would turn out to be a play that to this day, makes Mets fans smile no matter what the situation is. Just the anticipation of waiting for that ball to slowly roll down the line as it gets to Buckner and, well, you know what happened…

“And the pitch by Stanley, and a ground ball, trickling, it’s a fair ball. It gets by Buckner!!!  Rounding third Knight!!!  The Mets will win the ballgame!! The Mets win!!!!!”

October 25th, 1986.  Where has the time gone, my friends?

If you could see me, I have a smile on my face and a tear in my eye. If I could see you, I’m sure I’d see the same thing.

Paul DiSclafani is a featured author at “A View From the Bench”, an official affiliate of MLB.com.  “A View from the Bench” is recognized in the Top 100 of MLB.com/blogs.

Remembering October 16th, 1969

By Paul DiSclafani:

1969 mets 1October 16th, 1969.  I was 12 years old and baseball was my life.

1969 was a year that in many ways changed the world. Certainly from the eyes of a 12 year-old, it was monumental.

It started with Joe Namath and the Jets winning the Super Bowl in January, then July, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon while the whole world watched on their brand new color TV’s in glorious black and white. There was a music festival in Woodstock, New York that at the time everyone was complaining about that later turned into the greatest music weekend of all time.  Oh yeah, I remember hearing something about a war in a place called Vietnam.

Other than the moon walk, which most kids my age were fascinated by, the second half of my summer vacation was all about my first ever pennant race.  Not sure if you know this, but up until that moon walk, the Mets were a very bad baseball team.

But that summer was different. The Mets – MY Mets – had done something that no one had ever heard of before.  On September 24th, they clinched a “playoff” spot.  That’s right, kiddies.  For the first time in baseball history, each league was divided into two Divisions and there would now be a need for a “playoff” to determine which of the two teams would represent the National League in the World Series.  The Mets and the Atlanta Braves would play a best 3 of 5 in the first ever League Championship Series.

The Mets swept that series (3-0) and then went on to face the mighty Baltimore Orioles for the World Series.

That September, I was starting Seventh Grade in what today’s world is called “Middle School”, but it was “Junior High” back in the day. Of course, there weren’t a lot of Mets fans around (yet), mostly Yankee fans.  And yes campers, even back then, they made fun of the Mets.  Nobody seems to remember just how bad those Yankee teams were, but they were NEVER as bad as the Mets.

I remember the sheer joy of watching that first World Series game (it was a Saturday afternoon), seeing Tom Seaver take the mound in a completely foreign stadium against a team they had never faced before. And then Don Buford depositing the second pitch he threw over the right field fence for a home run.  My goodness…

The next day (on a Sunday afternoon), the Mets got even behind Jerry Koosman after scoring a run in the ninth for a 2-1 win and now they were coming home with the series tied 1-1. Koosman took a no-hitter into the sixth inning.

Gary Gentry shutout the Orioles in Game 3 (Nolan Ryan got the save) thanks to two of the greatest catches you will ever see in a World Series game by Tommie Agee, giving the Mets a 2-1 lead in the series.

Game 4 was full of controversy as Tom Seaver pitched eight shutout innings in protecting a 1-0 lead when Ron Swoboda made his now famous diving grab in the ninth inning of a sinking line drive to right off Brooks Robinson. That turned into a sacrifice fly that tied the game and send it into extra Innings.  In the bottom of the 10th, with runners on first and second and no outs, back-up catcher JC Martin came up to bunt and was hit on the wrist by Orioles pitcher Pete Richert as he ran to first base, causing the ball to go down the right field line, allowing Rod Gaspar to score the winning run.

Orioles manager Earl Weaver lost his mind and rightfully so. Martin was clearly out of the baseline, running to the inside of the foul line as he went to first base.  Who knows what would have happened if the umpires could have consulted replay?

Thursday October 16th, 1969 brought us to Game 5 and like all the others; it was a day game while 12 year-old kids like me were still in school.

Of course, any self-respecting 12 year-old baseball fan has a trusty transistor radio with him, but back then you weren’t allowed to listen to them in school. You could only do it in the hallways between classes, or during lunch.  There is not much you can get from four minutes between classes.

And baseball was a much “faster” game back then, not the marathon four-hour games that we have seen this postseason. World Series games that started at 1pm could be over by 3:30 easily.

So there I was, in my last class of the day, Science. I already knew that the Mets were down 3-0 heading into the sixth inning, but this was going to be the longest 45 minutes of my life.  The Science lab/classrooms were separated by a “common” room between them, where all the supplies were for both lab classrooms.  It also doubled as a teacher’s lounge.

About 10 minutes into the class that I could not possible concentrate on, a male teacher (I wish I could remember his name) came out of the common room and without saying a word, walked over to the corner of the chalk board and simply wrote:

Baltimore 3 – Mets 2

The class erupted in cheers (led by yours truly) and the teacher disappeared back into the common room. About 20 minutes later, he emerged to update his scoreboard to:

Baltimore 3 – Mets 3

Now the class was bedlam – and we still had 10 minutes left to go before we could be released. The classroom teacher allowed us to listen to the game until the bell rang and we could leave.

The walk from school to my home was roughly 20 minutes (what, you thought we had busses?), but just a few minutes into my journey home, my batteries in the radio died! Now I was traveling blind as the eighth inning was about to start in a 3-3 tie game.  I picked up the pace and cut through the Elementary School yard where I encountered a group of High School kids playing hand ball and listening to the game.  They saw my Mets hat and let me hang out to listen with them.

When Swoboda doubled home Cleon Jones to give the Mets the lead 4-3, this puny little seventh-grader was high-fiving 10th graders!  Who even knew what the hell a High-Five was?

I ran the last two blocks to get home for the ninth inning and found out they had scored another run and it was 5-3. My friend Bobby Olsen came over from across the street and we watched the last three outs together as my mother was getting ready to start dinner.  She had the black and white TV on in the dining room and when I came home, I immediately changed the channel because the Color TV took too long to “warm up”.  After watching that TV for the first two outs, Bobby and I decided to not jinx it and change to the Color TV.  We didn’t even want to move from the chairs we were sitting in.

When Davy Johnson hit the fly ball to left that Jones knelt down on one knee to catch, well, to this day it makes me weepy.

We were yelling and jumping and yelling and jumping. I think we might have actually frightened my mother.  We even grabbed a few pots and spoons, then ran outside to bang them like we do on New Year’s Eve at midnight.  I may not remember what I had for breakfast yesterday, but I remember that day, that moment in time.  I’m sure if I ever run into Bobby Olsen somewhere in this World, he would remember it also.

It shaped me as a sports fan and although I probably would still have this ridiculous love affair with the Mets even if they had gotten swept in the series, I can trace it all back to that moment. That special moment.  That first time when you could say, “We are the champions”.  And as a 12 year-old kid, that was something else.

October 16th, 1969…

Paul DiSclafani is a featured author at “A View From the Bench”, an official affiliate of MLB.com.  “A View from the Bench” is recognized in the Top 100 of MLB.com/blogs.