Archive for October, 2012

The Tournament

I was discussing the post season with a friend of mine who is about my age. It is interesting how we both feel the World Series was so much better years ago (when it really meant something). It used to be special when we could not watch on TV because the games were played during the day and we were in school. I remember sneaking a transistor radio to school so I could try and listen to an inning or two. The series was usually over between October 7th and 10th when the weather was still pretty nice. Now a days, the series encroaches November. The regular season seems like the Fourth of July picnic, so very long ago. So what has changed?

My friend and I grew old. That’s what changed.

Not too long ago I read an article that described how what we grew up with as kids seemed so much better than it is today. That theme was the premise of Woody Allen’s most recent film “Midnight in Paris”. The main character, Gil Pender played by actor Owen Wilson, longs for the past because he thinks things were so much better. As he walks around Paris late at night, he magical travels backward in time and discovers that his literary heroes from yesteryear feel the same way he did. Their past clearly was better than their present.  I often remember fondly of a ten team American and National League who sent their champion to the World Series. No divisions, no wild cards–ah the good old days.

But in fact, the ten team leagues of the 1960s was one of the shortest lived major league configurations in baseball history. It lasted from 1961 (1962 in the NL) to 1968. In 1969, the leagues were split into divisions, adding a league championship series to the post season mix. Since then, all hell has broken loose—or has it?

Divisional play has now been around for forty-three seasons. If you consider 1900 as being the start of the modern baseball era, divisional play has been around for 38% of the last 112 seasons. Prior to 1961, there were eight teams in each league (the AL was born in 1901). A 154 game season concluded with a best of seven World Series. The only changes were minor such as a few franchises moving to a new city. That was 60 years or 54% of modern baseball history.

I grew up in the sixties. The format that I wax poetic about, ten teams in a league, was around for just 7% of modern baseball history. So what makes me think it was the best of times for baseball?

It’s simply a matter of perspective. Those twenty teams just happened to be in that format when I first fell in love with baseball.

So the idea that anyone’s memory of the past far outshines the present is only opinion and not based in real fact. But when discussing the World Series, there is an important distinction. Prior to 1969, the two teams in the World Series were the two best teams, a first place team from each league. As soon as divisional play was introduced, that claim could no longer be made.  Then it was possible for a team with a lesser record within the NL or AL could represent their league in the World Series. Many considered that sacrilege at the time. One can only wonder what those opinions would have been had they known that some day (our present) a team with the fifth best record in their league would be able to compete on the grandest baseball stage of all.

That brings us to today where the San Francisco Giants just completed a four game sweep of the Detroit Tigers to become the world champions of 2012. Neither of these teams had the best record in their respective leagues. In fact, the Tigers did have the fifth best record in the American League, even less wins than the two wild card winners. In the NL the Giants record was better than the number two wild card Cardinals and tied with the 94 win first wild card Braves. But the Nationals (98 wins), Reds (97 wins), Yankees (95 wins) and Athletics (94 wins) all went home early, losing out at a chance to be in the Series.

No hard feelings. That’s the system all parties, the owners and players, agreed upon. So if the Yankees, who won 95 games, are now being considered a failure, were do we go from there?

Around this area, Yankee fans continue to call in the talk shows blasting their team’s failure in the post season. Here’s a team that has been to the post season every year but one since the last ice age. Yet their fans are acting like the Bombers are the Houston Astros. It is absolutely ludicrous that so many fans believe that the only day they can be happy is when their team wins the last game of the World Series. Do you know the odds of that? It’s one in 30 and that does not take into account the talent on the teams. Of course the odds are different for every club.

How is it that a team that wins 90 or more games is a failure? They are not a failure. That is a very good season. But only one team can ultimately come out on top. The Yankees won 95 games, hit 245 home runs during the regular season, staved off a huge challenge for the division title by the Baltimore Orioles down the stretch, won the first round of the playoffs with less than stellar offense but then got swept in the ALCS by a buzz saw from Detroit. So they’re a failure? If so, what does that make the Cubs?

Here’s the way we need to look at the baseball season. There are two parts, the regular season then there is the Tournament. Yes, I purposely capitalized the word.

The regular season serves the purpose of giving one third of the teams an opportunity to participate in the post season Tournament. A team does not have to have the best record in the Tournament but the team with the better record gets a better opportunity because finally seeding makes sense.

Certainly it is better this year than ever before if your team wins a division. The six teams that win a division title now get at least three games in the post season. The two wild cards from each league must fight over who is the better wild card by winning a single game. I love this idea because it gives incentive and motivation for a team to win a division.  The Atlanta Braves were upset with the format because after 94 wins, they were bounced by the Cardinals. Well Atlanta, that’s the way it goes. Next time, try and win the division.

So to the fans of the Yankees, Cardinals, Nationals, Athletics, Rangers, Braves, Reds, and Orioles…rejoice. Your teams did not fail. They got to the Tournament and that is an accomplishment. If your team made the league championship series even better yet. Am I saying you should not be disappointed your team didn’t get to the end? No, of course not.  Just have some perspective. Enjoy every regular season win and put each loss into perspective. Baseball should be an escape, not the cause of acid reflux.

Mookie and Bill

26 Years ago tonight was game six. Click here to read Bob Murphy and Gary Thorne’s radio call of the bottom of the 10th inning.

Ten Reasons to Watch the Series

The Mets have been out of business now for three weeks. The new wild card games, division series, and league championship series have all concluded, funneling down to the Giants and Tigers who will represent the National League and American League respectively in this year’s World Series. Most in the New York area do not care, having moved on full time to the local football teams and preparing for the NBA (will there be Hockey this year?). But if you are a baseball fan, this series is what all 30 teams play for.

Here are ten reasons to watch the World Series.

  1. It’s still baseball and once the WS is over its a long wait to spring training.
  2. It’s the first time the Giants and Tigers have ever met in the fall classic and that includes the New York Giants as well. There were seasons when it almost happened but it never did. Go here for more on this.
  3. Marco Scuturo is an exciting story and he is an ex Met. He came up to the Mets back in 2002 and has traveled around a lot since, until becoming a hero in San Francisco this fall.
  4. Angel Pagan is an ex Met too. The Mets could not get rid of Pagan fast enough after he sulked most of the 2011 season. Sandy Alderson sent him to SF for Andres Torres. Guess who got the last laugh?
  5. Austin Jackson and Phil Coke are ex-Yankees. Seeing these players in the series while the Yankees were spanked out of the playoffs has to make any Mets fan warm and fuzzy.
  6. You get to hear Tim McCarver who is well known to all Mets fans. Tim was a Mets mainstay in the TV booth from 1983 through 1998. Love him or hate him, Tim changed the way baseball is analyzed on the TV.
  7. Even in high definition, the views of San Francisco Bay are outstanding from AT&T Park.
  8. Guillermo Mota and Xavier Nady of the Giants are also ex-Mets. Nady remains one of the most popular Mets to ever play just a half season with the club. For Mota, not so much.
  9. Octavio Dotel, relief pitcher, for the Tigers, is the only link to the 1999 post season Mets. Dotel pitched 3.1 innings and won 1 game in the 1999 post season.
  10. What else you gonna watch, Housewives of New Jersey?

Why Mock The Yankees?

For any Met fan rejoicing in the Yankees loss in the ALCS, I say shame on you. If you are calling your Yankee fan friends and railing on them because their team lost in the playoffs, you are fairly pathetic.

I might enjoy the practice myself if the Mets, my favorite team, had actually done something of significance these last six seasons. But while the Mets were blowing two playoff chances then finishing significantly under .500 since 2007, the Yankees have made their traditional trip to the post season each year but once. And they won a world championship their first season in the new Yankee Stadium while the Mets completely stunk up the first season in their new digs. And as poorly as the Yankees played in this post season, they won 95 regular season games and made it to the final four. The Mets were in the final four too, the final four from the bottom of the National League.

Now I agree it is hard to listen to my Yankee fan friends bitch and moan this morning. I just want to say SHUT UP already. They have no idea what it is to walk in our shoes. As silly as Mets fans can be when they loudly claim as a group at Citi Field that the “Yankees Suck”, they have to know they really don’t. Here is a team, the Yankees, that has had a winning season since 1993. And since ’93 they have missed the playoffs only three times and once was because of the strike in ’94 when they were headed for post season play. That is simply remarkable. During these two decades, the Yankees have won five world series compared to the Mets winning…um…none. The Mets were in one fall classic however, but they lost to you know who.

A Yankee fan in their late twenties now find themselves in a precarious situation. For the first time in their lives, they may be witnessing the downfall of their team. The two decade run of success could be coming to an end. Robinson Cano will be 30 next season and is the youngest everyday player on the team. The Yankee hierarchy must decide what to do next. Do they continue to go after high priced free agents (not that there are any great ones this off season), or do they begin to rebuild for the future. The latter will require patience as we Mets fans know all too well. From first impressions, Yankee fans don’t like that idea.

The amount of empty seats at Yankee Stadium during the playoffs was mind boggling. It appears Yankee fans are ready to jump ship at the first sign of failure. The problem Brian Cashman and his staff will face is how to add youth to their club. Who do they have to trade, A-Rod? With that contract? Forget it unless the Yankees are willing to eat most of it. Plus their 95 wins this year is not going to have them drafting early next June either. Can you imagine the Yankees having a sub .500 season while they attempt to rebuild? Yankee Stadium would look a lot like Citi Field–empty.

Should the Mets be doing what the Yankees did to build winning clubs? The answer is yes and no. The great Yankees of the late 90′s was built the right way. Gene Michael rebuilt the Yankees minor league system. It was that system that produced Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada. It took time while the Yanks struggled in the late 80s, and early 90s but the system produced fruit and excellence prevailed. This is the model to follow and one Mets GM Sandy Alderson appears to agree with.

What has happened since may ultimately be the Yankees downfall. They spent too much money on players like Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixiera, C.C. Sabathia, and A. J. Burnett (who is with Pittsburgh now). Yes, it got them a championship and more playoff appearances and the Yankees simply could afford it. But now they are stuck with these aging players (and some of Burnett’s money) who are starting to fail more and more. I’m not saying the Yankees are done because predictions of their demise has become an annual cry. But there comes a point when age catches up and there are no easy answers for the Bombers to replace these players. Plus George Steinbrenner is gone now. His sons Hank and Hal, do not seem to have the stomach for the long term contracts given out when their Dad was in charge. Plus the new collective bargaining agreement will have teams paying heavily over a certain salary threshold, a place the Steinbrenner boys do not want to go.

The Mets are doing it the right way. Build from within and be patient. It worked for the Yankees, it is working for the Cardinals who simply become amazing in the playoffs. It has worked for the San Francisco Giants who are in the playoffs again and the Texas Rangers who lost out in the wild card round. The same can be said for the Nationals, Orioles, and Athletics whose youngsters helped get their teams to the playoffs. The Pirates have made strides too and don’t forget those pesky Phillies whose core brought them to prominence the last six years. But like the Yankees, the Phillies got greedy and traded away a lot of youth for expensive and un-tradeable contracts. And last but not least, the Tigers who are now the American League champions and headed to their second world series in six years (a team the Mets should have played in 2006). Detroit did it from building within, smart trades and a key free agent signing in Prince Fielder (but down the road, that contract might be tough to swallow). And smart trades and key free agents is part of the equation. No team will be successful relying on the farm alone. But a strong farm allows a team to make good trades and putting the team in a position where key players do not have to come from free agency elusively.

All in all I wish I could boast of twenty years of sustained success for my team. But the Mets are a club that have never enjoyed sustained success in their history other than the six year period in the mid to late 1980s. Hopefully things will begin to change over in Flushing so we can actually cheer for something positive instead of a rival failing.

Unraveling Yankees

They are getting great pitching but they just can’t hit. Their hitters are expanding the strike zone, not being selective. They have absolutely no power and it seems that all the calls are going against them. They are simply not scoring any runs and have major injuries on top of it all.

Readers of this blog would immediately assume I am talking about the Mets. But the Amazins’ bats, balls, gloves, and unis have been put away for almost two weeks now. Believe it or not, my description applies to the Yankees.

Yes the Yankees. And even though they managed to just scrape by the young Baltimore Orioles in the ALDS, it will be a tall order to somehow win the next four out of five games from the Detroit Tigers. The Yankees who trail in the ALCS two games to zip look completely inept as if father time decided to finally call in the favor.

Robinson Cano has forgotten how to hit making everyone notice that he never hustles to first base. Alex Rodriguez is showing every sign of an aging player that may have had some significant help earlier in his career from the chemical industry. Nick Swisher is showing why the Mets should not go near him when they begin to pursue outfielders through free agency in a few weeks. Curtis Granderson loves the right field porch in Yankee Stadium but he must hate the grass because his bat can never place any balls on top of it. My advice is fall behind by two runs and make sure Raul Ibanez comes up with a man on in the ninth inning or later.

The big blow came Saturday evening when on a routine ground ball, Derek Jeter turned his ankle. It’s broken and regardless of what the specialist may say today, the next at bat for Derek will happen some time next March.

When you look at the Yankees, most wonder why is this happening. How is it that a team that won 95 games during the regular season, struggled so much in the playoffs?

The Yanks had two very good months. They went 20-7 in June and 20-11 from September 1st to the end of the season. That’s a total of 40-18. The rest of the season, they went 55-49. There were signs that there were problems on this team. Now before anyone says I’m just a bitter Mets fan let me say…well, you would be partially correct but don’t be foolish, I wish my team was struggling in the playoffs right now. As bad as Yankees fans feel, and I have many Yankee fan friends who do, it’s better to be in the post season struggling than have your team a complete afterthought.

Now did the Yankees get a bad break at second base on Swisher’s throw to Cano? Most certainly but could the pitcher get the next two outs? Can their hitters get a hit or drive in a run? Seems not. But why?

How did the Yankees score most of their runs this season? By hitting home runs, that’s how. As a team the Yankees out homered everyone, banging 245 balls over the fence. By comparison the Mets hit 139 of them. Gee–wonder why the Mets are home watching on TV while their cross town rivals are still playing.

But the problem is when the Yankees do not homer, they do not score. And except for Raul Ibanez, they are not hitting home runs right now. Unless they get their homer stroke back in Detroit, it’s likely the Yankees will not get that chance for their 28th world championship.

No I am not losing any sleep over it. But I find it fascinating to see so many Yankee fans come so unglued because of what is going on. To you Yankee fans I say walk a mile in a Mets fans shoes. I understand your pain. You expect to win every single year. But you cannot come close to know what it’s like to be us. I understand your need for sympathy. Just don’t come calling around our neck of the woods looking for any.

Payback

Time must have froze back on October 25th, 1986 after Keith Hernandez flied out to center for the second out in the 10th inning. The scoreboard read congratulations 1986 World Champion Boston Red Sox. With an out to go, silence fell over Shea Stadium. The crowd and players on the field stood motionless. Even a 737 airliner hung frozen in the sky as if suspended on a string as it left LaGuardia. Davey Johnson looked around and was puzzled as to what had happened. None of his players moved or responded to his questions in the dugout. Time had stood still.

A man on the field, where he came from no one knew, walked toward Johnson as if out of nowhere. Johnson left the dugout to confront the tall dark man who looked quite sinister. “Who are you? What is going on?” Johnson asked. “I have made time stand still at this very moment to offer you a proposition” the strange man said. “What would that be?” the Mets manger asked. The man said “I will let you win this game but someday in the distant future I will need to collect”. “What does that mean?” Davey asked. “It means there will be a game in the future that you will be sure to win but I must take it from you. “The choice is yours. “Win this game but lose a very important game in the future.” said the dark man. “You mean game seven?” Davey inquired. The man replied “It could be game seven tomorrow or it could be a game in 26 years. “It’s not for you to know”.

Johnson took the deal. There was no way after 108 games won in the regular season and an unbelievable battle in the NLCS against the Astros could Davey bear to see it all end like this. The deal was struck, the dark man disappeared and time moved forward. Johnson found himself in the dugout as the unimaginable happened. The Mets won game 6.

Over the years, Johnson forgot about the strange encounter…until last night. What goes around comes around Davey thought as he sighed heavily at the podium after an absolutely excruciating exit from the playoffs at the hands of the crafty never-say-die second wild card team Cardinals.

My little fiction is just that, but you have to wonder. Only in baseball could there be such a payback. As Yogi said in 1973 its never over until it is over. For Davey, the Nationals, and their fans, now its over and it has to hurt. From a Mets fan that knows more pain that most baseball fans, trust me when I say I feel all your pain down there in DC. You guys had a great year. I often wonder had the ’86 Mets failed in game six, would they have come back stronger, more hungry the next season. Had they lost game six maybe they would have won two or more world series to follow. The Nationals will grow from their sad experience and will be a force to reckon with in the NL East for years to come. However, I thought that about the Mets following the 2006 NLCS too.

So all the teams I rooted for are out. The Nationals, Reds, Orioles, and As were all defeated. It would have been so nice to see all new teams in the league championship series. But of course with me rooting for them, I should have known better. I hope my Mets karma had nothing to do with the ouster of these clubs. (Of course i know it did not).

You know who’s going to win it all? The Yankees, that’s who. Every time I think the aging, non hitting, A-Rod is finished Yankees are going away, they find a way to win. They can’t hit a lick but they pitched great and their ace came though yesterday afternoon. I would not be shocked if they score 38 runs in the next three games against Detroit. The experts would disagree but the Yankees managed to stay on top when their performance dictated otherwise for a half a season now. I predict the Yanks and Cardinals in the World Series. Really, how do you vote against St. Louis? They are unbelievable.

Five More Years

Do you think the Yankees will keep Raul Ibanez around for five more years to pinch hit for Alex Rodriguez? I’m wondering because that’s how many more years the Yanks are on the hook for A-Rod. They owe him roughly 140 million. That’s a lot of dough for a guy who is showing signs of deteriorating at age 37. What is he going to be like at 42? Another example of the risk of long term multi million dollar contracts.