Wednesday, August 1, 2012

An Open Letter To Mets Management

(Note - this originally appeared on the blog page of Professional Baseball Instruction's website.)

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed September 24th on my calendar. The Mets and Pirates at Citi Field with possible playoff implications for both teams. Here at PBI we were positively giddy at the prospect of these two teams actually playing a meaningful late-September series.

The best laid plans....

The Mets went into the All Star Break with a record of 46-40, sitting just a half-game out of the Wild Card. At 48-37, the Pirates were in 1st place in the National League Central Division and had won 8 out of 10 games.

Since the All Star Break, the Pirates have stumbled a bit, and the Cincinnati Reds have gone on a ridiculous tear to pull ahead in the division. But make no mistake, the Pirates are hanging tough at 16 games over .500. The Mets on the other hand have won just 5 of their last 19 games and have dropped nearly 10 games off the Wild Card pace.

If you listen closely, you can hear the murmuring from a certain segment of Mets fans - fire Terry Collins and bring in the fiery Wally Backman from their AAA farm club to throw a few buckets of baseballs around and shake things up. And that is precisely what the Mets DON'T want to do. And if you need a reason why, look no further than the aforementioned Pittsburgh Pirates.

Last summer, their 1st under manager (and PBI Major League advisor) Clint Hurdle, the Pirates were one of the big surprises of the National League. With a core of good young players they were winning and putting fans back into the seats. Though they ultimately ran out of gas as the 162-game season wore on, the general mood among the players was that 2011 had brought about a change in Pirates baseball. So as the Pirates head into August still in contention, they've talked about how much they learned last year and how they're using that experience to maintain a level of consistency in 2012.

The Mets would do well to follow the same course of action. The 2012 Mets of the 1st half were exciting, they were winning games they would have lost a year or two ago, and the fans were starting to get excited again. Firing Terry Collins now, just to bring in the supposedly fiery Wally Backman would be a huge mistake. Like the 2012 Pirates who are using the lessons learned from the 2011 season to stay in contention, I think the 2013 Mets will be best served by keeping Terry Collins and learning from the mistakes of the 2012 second half.

There's a reason the Major League Baseball season is 162 games long. The Pirates learned it last year; the Mets are learning it this year.

Stay the course.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Johan (Finally) Closes the Deal

Fifty years. 8019 games. A list of some of the greatest pitchers to ever play the game on their all-time roster like Seaver, Ryan, Gooden. Ten pitchers who did it in their career BEFORE joining the Mets. Seven pitchers who accomplished it AFTER leaving the Mets. Opponents did it to the Mets six times, including Jim Bunning's 1964 perfect game on Father's Day at Shea Stadium. A grand total of 35 - THIRTY-FREAKING-FIVE - Mets pitchers had thrown 1-hitters including two by Tom Seaver who both times got into the 9th inning before giving up a base hit. But until Friday night, no Met in the entire history of the franchise had ever thrown a no-hitter.

Who could have even seen this one coming, too? In the fall of 2010, Johan Santana underwent surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule in his left shoulder. It was the third year in a row that Santana had been injured and there was some legitimate concern that his career might even be over. He missed the entire 2011 major league season while rehabbing. His game-time that year consisted of 2 minor league starts in A ball against college-age level minor leaguers. Heading into 2012, there was no guarantee that Santana would even leave spring training on the roster, let alone be the Opening Day starting pitcher.

His early bullpen sessions in spring training were encouraging. He had some velocity; more importantly, his surgically repaired shoulder was responding positively after he threw. Se there was Johan Santana on April 5, 2012 on the mound for the Mets as the Opening Day starting pitcher. He went 5 scoreless innings against Atlanta while striking out 5. Six weeks later, he threw a complete game against San Diego in which he struck out 7. It was clear he was healthy.

Friday night, Johan Santana did something no one - not Seaver, Ryan, Gooden or any of the rest - had ever done in a Mets uniform. In the 8020th game in Mets franchise history, he threw a no-hitter. Eight strikeouts, five walks, and a career-high 134 pitches. Add in 20-25 warm-up throws in the outfield to loosen up, followed by another 35-40 pitches in the pre-game bullpen, plus another 8 pre-inning warm-up throws and you have a VERY busy evening for Santana. It's no wonder manager Terry Collins was a bit guarded in his post-game press conference.

The game was not without a little controversy. What, after 50 years and 8019 games you thought it was going to be easy? Carlos Beltran's liner down the 3rd base line in the 6th inning was incorrectly ruled a foul ball and there are some Cardinals fans whining about how the no-hitter should have an asterisk next to it. I would offer that those Cardinals fans should be more concerned that their team has scored but a single run over the last 27 innings against a gritty Mets team that is proving all of its detractors very wrong.

Congratulations to Johan Santana and the New York Mets. Let's hope it's not another 8020 games until the next one.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Tale of Two Pitchers - Who's Bad?

We buy tickets to see them, or we pay for a cable link/satellite dish to watch them play, we buy the shirt with their names on the back, we may even try to emulate them in some way. They play for OUR team and wear OUR uniform, so they must be nice guys, right?

This past Sunday Andy Pettitte made his return to the Yankees against the Seattle Mariners. He was met with a resounding ovation both before the game and as he was leaving the field, even though he had given up a pair of home runs and was on the losing end of what was happening. Meanwhile a couple hundred miles to the north, Red Sox Nation was blasting one of their starting pitchers, Josh Beckett, for what is being perceived as a lack of proper commitment to THEIR team.

Pettitte is regarded as one of the good guys by Yankee fans. Along with Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada he was part of the "core four" who had anchored the Yankees through their amazing championship run in the 90's. Despite an admission of using HGH, Pettitte has rarely been subjected to any venom from the Yankee Faithful. Did using PED's make Pettitte a bad guy? I mean, it's cheating, right? I don't necessarily agree with his choice, but put me in the category of those who think that Pettitte was just doing whatever he could to keep making a living. Judging from the reaction Andy received throughout his career following his revelation, it was clear that the fans had long forgiven him (if they ever even cared).

Beckett, on the other hand, is the Poster Boy for the collapse of the 2011 Red Sox. For five months, that team was the best in baseball, prior to a September collapse that was almost beyond comprehension. Soon after Boston was eliminated from the playoffs word leaked out that Beckett and a few other pitchers had been drinking beer and eating fried chicken in the clubhouse during games. Despite the fact that players have been eating/drinking in lockerrooms for years (especially pitchers after they have been removed from a game), angry Red Sox fans chose Beckett as the ring leader, questioned his work ethic and worried about the effect he was having on younger pitchers like Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. More recently, he was skipped for a start with what was said to be a sore lat muscle. That would have fine, except it was later revealed that he had played 18 holes of golf on a non-game day shortly after it was announced that he would miss a game. When he subsequently got rocked in his next start, the boos that rained down upon him at Fenway Park were deafening.

In the post-game media interview, Beckett told fans what they most certainly didn't want to hear - what he does on a day off is no one's business but his. "I spend my off days the way I want to spend them." You can imagine the reaction. Twitter, Facebook, and the call-in shows were full of the expected knee-jerk reaction of "He gets an entire off-season...what does he need a day off for during the season?" Never mind what players do in the off-season - the running, the lifting, the throwing, etc. in an effort to get ready for 162 games packed into 180 days (with the possibility of post-season games). Oh, and I forgot to factor in the millions of dollars these guys get paid. Rachet the anger level of the fans up even higher when you start talking about the money athletes make.

Did Beckett's admonition that his private life is his and his alone make him a bad guy? I suppose it depends upon whether you think a professional athlete owes you anything. Speaking personally, I stopped the whole hero worship/role model thing with athletes years ago (okay, I will admit to having a small man-crush on Jacoby Ellsbury). They're human beings who perform HIGHLY skilled jobs. Say what you will about Andy Pettitte or Josh Beckett or any other MLB player but they hold two out of 750 possible jobs at the Major League level. What's that? You say you'd play for free? That's probably exactly what you'd be worth compared to an athlete who has reached the highest level of his profession.

Now excuse me...I have to check on Jacoby Ellsbury's rehab from his April shoulder injury.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

When "If" Is the Biggest Word In the English Language

I don't know if I'd call it the best Super Bowl game I've ever seen - and I'm old enough to have seen each and every one of them - but I do know that Super Bowl XLVI came down to the last play of the game before it was ultimately decided. And for that reason, I have to say that it was certainly one of the most exciting NFL championship games we've ever had.

I'm writing this as thousands upon thousands of New York Giants fans are lining the streets of lower Manhattan for the team's victory parade, and just a handful of hours before the celebration moves to the New Jersey side of the Hudson River for the party at Met Life Stadium. And I can't help but wonder what if....

What if Wes Welker hadn't dropped that 4th quarter pass from Tom Brady? What if Aaron Hernandez hadn't dropped his own 4th quarter pass - arguably better thrown and an easier catch? What if Rob Gronkowski caught that deflection of that final Hail Mary pass in the endzone? What if Brady underthrows that final pass and Wes Welker (#83) - completely wide open in front of the end zone - catches it? What if Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw's stumble into the endzone (OF COURSE the Patriots let him score, they needed the ball back) ultimately left too much time on the clock and Brady manages to complete the final pass?

Let's just say the celebration today would probably be a few hundred miles to the north in a flotilla of duck boats.

That's not to take anything away from Eli Manning, his salsa-dancing wide receiver Victor Cruz, or any of the Giants who came from the depths of a 7-7 record and ran the table for the team's 2nd Super Bowl win in the last 4 years. The entire Giants organization, the players, and the fans should be very proud of what this team accomplished this season.

It's just that sometimes, "if" is a bigger word than it appears.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The 2012 High Holy Days

February 1st and 60 degrees makes it official! Spring is on its way! I can't remember the last time we had a winter that was so incredibly mild. Save for a freak October blizzard, Mother Nature has been rather kind to us lately.

Here is official run down for the 2012 High Holy Days.

February 11 - Truck Day
February 19 - Pitchers and catchers report
February 24 - Position players report
February 25 - Full squad workouts begin
March 1 - First day of spring (unofficial)
March 3 - First Red Sox Spring Training game
March 10 - Morris County St. Patrick's Day Parade
March 16 - Matthew's birthday
March 17 - St. Patrick's Day
March 20 - First day of spring (official)
March 28 - 2012 Major League Baseball Opening Day
April 13 - Red Sox Home Opener