I don’t know about you, but as a baseball fan, today I feel totally broken hearted.
If you’re a sports fan, and more specifically a fan of Major League Baseball, it’s difficult to feel anything but sorry for yourself following the events of the last few days.
Already a damaged sport, baseball, which has forever been known as America’s favorite pastime, may have suffered a blow it’s unable to fully recover from.
Alex Rodriguez, the golden boy of the sport and arguably the most talented athlete who plays it, admitted yesterday he was guilty of using performance enhancing drugs between the years of 2001 and 2003.
The A-Rod story has already been beaten to death (and deservedly so) but I wanted to talk about something I feel has now become an even bigger issue, which is the integrity the game still has (if any) along with the importance it will have moving forward.
Talking about Rodriguez briefly, you can give him all the credit you want for being honest and admitting his use, but that simply doesn’t cut it.
He cheated. Plain and simple, and as clear as can be.
The man was “A-Fraud’ in every sense of the word.
Hall of fame? Forget it.
If I had a vote, there isn’t a chance that he, or anybody linked to using steroids belongs among the immortals of the game who may have been everything from drunks to racists, but also earned their immortality by playing the game the way it was supposed to be played.
There cannot be a spot in Cooperstown for a player who knowingly gave himself an illegal edge in a sport most will agree he never needed to begin with.
Of course anybody who is familiar with the kind of person Alex Rodriguez has revealed himself to be, he’s a selfish, superficial, self conscious and as he proved during his interview with ESPN’s Peter Gammons yesterday, utterly disingenuous.
(Watch it for yourself below)
Sure, he admitted to using these illegal substances, but as Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated points out, his interview raised more questions than answers.
Ironically, for a player who is as obsessed with being bigger than the game as Rodriguez is, his use and admission may be the very thing which pushes baseball to the point of no return.
If it hasn’t already, baseball is on the cusp of losing it’s innocence.
* * * * *
Remember how simple it was when we were kids?
For almost all of us, we knew we weren’t going pro. We knew we weren’t going make millions playing a game. But it was that game we came to love.
We loved it because it just felt pure to play.
Having a catch in the backyard. Little league at bats. High school try outs.
No matter how far you went, just playing was more than enough.
The real treat was always seeing the big boys make it look so easy at the ballpark.
Seeing our idols in person was as cool as it got.
They became our idols and our heroes.
These men were larger than life, and were getting paid- lots, and lots of money- to play a game we would have given years of our life to spend a day playing on the big stage.
We looked up to these people because we saw them as everything we knew we couldn’t be.
Of course as we get older, we learn some of the harsh realities that life reveals to us.
At some point, sooner than later for most, we learn that Santa Claus doesn’t exist, we won’t turn into a piece of candy no matter how much of it eat and girls, in fact, don’t have cooties.
Of course the other truth we learn is that human beings, as wonderful as they may appear, make mistakes.
That applies to everyone from our teachers to our parents to the very athletes we thought were infallible.
* * * * *
Professional athletes aren’t perfect, no matter how many records they’ve broken, championship’s they’ve won or gold medals they’ve earned.
Forgetting about Major League Baseball for a moment, you have Kobe Bryant, among the brightest stars in the NBA who a few years back was accused of rape, and although he had the charges against him dropped, his image was permanently altered.
You have Michael Phelps, who despite winning eight gold medals wasn’t able to swim his way out of a photograph which showed him smoking out of a bong. Phelps was suspended three months and his image has also been tarnished.
Speaking of Olympians, while not discriminating gender, Marion Jones also was a gold medalist who was found guilty of using performance enhancing drugs and had to relinquish the medals she earned.
The NFL most recently has Giants wide receiver and Super Bowl hero Plaxico Burress shoot himself in the leg, ending his season and ruining his teams chances of repeating as champions.
Of course baseball takes the cake when it comes to the star power of the mistake prone.
Look back at the last fifteen years, and think of the biggest names the sport has produced:
Three come to mind, and those names are Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez.
Wouldn’t you know it, all three find themselves at the center of the steroids storm. While Rodriguez gave his admission yesterday, allowing him to salvage a shred of respect, Bonds and Clemens have steadily denied their alleged drug use since the allegations were first made.
* * * * *
As baseball continues to struggle with it’s image, the biggest hit isn’t take by the sport, but rather by the people who invest their time and money in it.
I’m talking about us. The fans. The kids and the teenagers and parents who grew up loving this game, continued to love it as we got older and for those of us lucky enough have passed on that love to our children.
We are left watching press conferences and reading tell all books and watching staged interviews instead of worry about why our favorite team hasn’t signed that all star left fielder or why our team’s best player, with a runner on third and nobody out, ahead in the count 3-0, couldn’t work out a walk or find a way to get that runner in.
Instead of cheering for records to be broken we are now forced to cheer for them to withstand the test of time.
I think I speak on behalf of all baseball fans when I say that as bad as a season may end, or as bad as an at bat may go or a pitcher’s start may be, those are disappointments you learn to live with. As they always say there’s always next year for your team to get back on the horse and try again.
But finding out one of your hero’s turned out to be nothing more than a liar and cheater? Where does that fan turn?
After spending the money on the jerseys, and after driving hours and hours to see them play and arguing with your friends until you lose your voice that your favorite player is better than theirs, what are you left with?
Baseball, and sports for that matter, are intended to be our escape from reality. However what happens when we need an escape from our escape?
* * * * *
The main point I was hoping to make is actually more of a question I’ll propose:
Has Major League Baseball become nothing more than a fraud?
Has our beloved pastime been battered and bruised so badly that it’s unrecognizable?
I’m not sure the sport is beyond rescue, however with the Alex Rodriguez revelations, baseball is dangerously close to losing the faith of its loyal fan base.
Sure, the owners will still make their money and the players will still get their paychecks but what about the fans?
In an economy that continues to free fall, and ticket prices that continue skyrocket, baseball hasn’t helped itself in an effort to convince fans to spend that extra dollar and show up for a product that is holding on by a thread.
When the sport’s biggest names have turned out to be nothing more than cheaters, why leave the couch and pay money to watch the selfish, greedy villains disappoint us more with their actions off the field than on it?
At what point do we stop watching all together?
The saddest reality is that such a question needs to be raised.
* * * * *
I’ll end with this, a quote from the movie of all movies when it comes to baseball, Field of Dreams.
“The one constant through all the years…has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past…It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again…”
Whether or not the sport is capable of reminding us why we fell in love with it in the first place has never been more uncertain.
A happy and healthy Thanksgiving to everyone out there.
On this day of thanks, I thought it would be fun to list the 10 things I’ve been thankful for in 2008 when it comes to New York sports.
As a fan of the Mets, Jets, Knicks, Rangers, and Syracuse basketball team, I tried focusing on my teams but had to stray to come up with 10, especially with the teams’ lack of success.
10. The Major League Baseball All Star Game
I was lucky enough to be in attendance at the final All Star Game ever at Yankee Stadium. As I sat out in the left field bleachers, I couldn’t see everything, but I made sure I stuck around for all 15 innings and all five-plus hours in watching the American League pull out the victory and claim home field advantage in the World Series.
Seeing all the legends like Willie Mays and Hank Aaron was a once in a lifetime experience, and the whole night was as good as it gets for a baseball fan.
9. October Baseball without the Yankees
Now, the Mets weren’t part of the postseason either, so I know I’m opening myself up here for major criticism. However, after having to watch the Yankees extend their season for 12 years in a row, enough was enough.
The fact that the team wasn’t able to make the playoffs in the final season of their historic ballpark was icing on the cake. It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving fanbase.
Of course it only made things sweeter seeing Joe Torre get his Dodgers into the NLCS. However, his firing was still the correct decision, right George?
8. Henrik Lundqvist
I’ll admit it, I don’t watch a ton of hockey, but when I watch the Rangers, I can’t help but marvel at how dominant king Henry can be between the pipes. He stands on his head night after night keeping the team in games when the offense struggles.
Back in the spring, when the Rangers were looking to earn a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals, Lundqvist was sensational against Pittsburgh. Lundqvist led the squad when they weren’t able to capitalize on power play opportunities.
Lundqvist is quietly one of the five best athletes this city has to offer. Write it down.
7. Jonny Flynn
After two seasons of missing out on the NCAA tournament, the orange have jumped out to a 5-0 start, including road wins on back to back nights against Florida and Kansas. The big reason behind their early success has been the play of sophomore point guard Jonny Flynn, who is making a case as one of the best one-guards in all of America. His name has been mentioned in the same breath as guards like Darren Collison and Ty Lawson.
Flynn forced overtime Tuesday night with a game tying three with 6.4 seconds left. His ability to create shots for his teammates and score the basketball will make Syracuse a contender throughout the year. He’s the best pure basketball player Jim Boeheim has coached since Carmelo Anthony.
6. Leon Washington
The Jets’ most valuable player in my eyes, Washington makes something happen every game. You can pencil him in for making at least one game-changing play, whether it’s a long touchdown run or taking a kickoff back to the house.
Leon has been important in spelling Thomas Jones, and the two have formed a dynamic rushing tandem that has helped put the Jets on top of the AFC East, and in contention for a possible postseason run.
The quarterback handing Washington the ball has been a pretty big reason for their success as well, but more on him later.
5. The Escape, the Catch, the Upset
I’m not a Giants fan, but unlike the Mets-Yankees hate I’ve developed growing up, I always root for the Giants unless they’re taking on my Jets.
While my Jets were nowhere to be found in January, the Giants’ playoff run last season was something that any sports fan could appreciate. Going on the road and winning games in Tampa, Dallas, and Green Bay, when the wind chill was -20, and defeating the previously undefeated Patriots was all sorts of fun.
Of course the moment from that game that I, like everybody else, will think of first was the escape of Eli Manning and the throw and catch to David Tyree, who pinned the ball against his helmet on the Giants’ final touchdown drive, setting up the game-winning score.
The game was phenomenal, the Giants won a hard earned championship, and the Patriots were denied their piece of football immortality.
4. Johan Santana
While the Mets’ season ended up being a waste, the performance of Johan Santana was anything but that. Santana was brilliant, winning 16 games and finishing third in National League Cy Young voting.
It was his final two performances of the season, including his complete game, a three-hit shutout on the second to last game of the season (a game I was at), that electrified Mets fans and gave them hope that they would be able to avoid a second consecutive late season collapse.
Of course they didn’t, but that was no fault of Santana, who was pitching with a torn ligament in his knee. For all the prospects and money Omar Minaya and ownership gave up to bring him to Queens, and in the midst of a very disappointing season, Santana certainly shined.
3. Donnie Walsh
I could have given Isiah Thomas a spot and spoken about how I’m thankful for his removal, but I’m going to group that with Walsh. Since being hired by owner James Dolan, Walsh wasted little time in removing Thomas as coach.
Walsh not only was able to effectively end the dreadful Isiah Thomas era, but he hired a proven winner in Mike D’Antoni. He has already begun to clear cap space for when LeBron James, among others, becomes a free agent in 2010.
The trades of Jamal Crawford and Zach Randolph clear nearly $28 million of cap space going into the summer of 2010, when the Knicks will be primed to start a new era with James leading the way.
Walsh would have topped my list, but still hasn’t gotten rid of Stephon Marbury, although that probably isn’t too far off from happening.
2. Shea Goodbye
I’ve been going to Shea Stadium for nearly 15 years, and at 21 years old, aside from the places I’ve called home and the classrooms I’ve been in, there isn’t a place I’ve spent more time than the former home of the Mets.
Although the season didn’t end as planned, I was able to drive home from Syracuse to attend the final three regular season games in the history of the ballpark. It was an emotional weekend, and it was great seeing the likes of Mike Piazza, Doc Gooden, and Tom Seaver one last time at Shea.
The final season at Shea also included Billy Joel as the last entertainer of the stadium, and I was lucky enough to be there when Paul McCartney came out.
All in all, some of my best memories were at Shea, and knowing I’ll never be there again to watch baseball is something that probably won’t sink in until I’m watching games at Citi Field.
1. Brett Favre
I can’t think of anything greater than one of your favorite players joining one of your favorite teams. Such was the case when, in early August, the New York Jets acquired one of the greatest to ever play the game to be their quarterback. Brett Favre was the centerpiece to an offseason makeover following a disastrous 4-12 season.
Bringing his one of a kind skills and child-like exuberance, the Jets find themselves at 8-3 and in contention for a division championship. Favre has completely changed the culture in the Jets locker room. Over the course of the season the group has come together as a unit and played the type of winning football Jets fans aren’t all accustomed used to.
Favre is easy to like and easier to root for, especially when he’s getting his team victories.
A wild day of wheeling and dealing by President Donnie Walsh leaves the Knicks fans salivating at the chance of landing a big price in the summer of 2010.
In a pair of moves, the Knicks began trimming the fat of their bloated payroll, sending Jamal Crawford to Golden State for Al Harrington, while shipping Zach Randolph to The L.A. Clippers for Tim Thomas and Cuttino Mobley.
Crawford has been a Knick since 2004, and was among the first big moves Isiah Thomas made in trying to surround Stephon Marbury with fresh faces. Unfortunately, like almost every other move Thomas made, Crawford wasn’t able to deliver any sustained success, as he was a talented but streaky scorer who lacked defensive prowess and was maddeningly inconsistent.
Randolph, also acquired by Thomas, brought scoring and rebounding and was supposed to team with Eddy Curry to form an dynamic tandem in the front court. Of course that never materialized as Curry regressed and proved he couldn’t share the court this Randolph, who despite putting up decent numbers, contributed to a 23-59 season.
The additions of Harrington, Thomas and Mobley should please Knicks fans most by the lengths of their contracts, all of which expire after next season.
By dumping Crawford and Randolph, the Knicks shed two contracts which extend beyond the “Summer of LeBron”, and with their departure goes some 27 million dollars of cap space heading into the summer of 2010.
These trades are more about the players going and the cap space opening up than it is the new faces.
Harrington will probably start at the 4 and average is 13 and 6, while Mobley can fill in at the 2 and provide a decent outside threat with some veteran savvy this team hasn’t had in a long time. Tim Thomas, who will be starting his second stint in New York after playing with the Knicks between 2003 and 2005, could see some minutes off the bench.
At 6-6, despite their improved performance under head coach Mike D’Antoni, the Knicks were hardly a championship contender, and by moving their two leading scorers Walsh has loudly and clearly stated that the process of rebuilding is in full effect, even it comes at the cost of sneaking into the playoffs and suffering a first round defeat, which is probably the best the Knicks could have hoped for this season.
Madison Square Garden has’t been able to enjoy a winning basketball season in nearly a decade, and probably will have to wait another two before their tested patience is rewarded.
With LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire and Steve Nash among others all available in the summer of 2010, Walsh has now put the Knicks in a position to sign at least one of this and perhaps a pair should he be able to shed the contract of Curry and/or Jefferies between now then.
While that may seem daunting, Walsh has backed up his word in working to get the Knicks in better cap-shape by 2010, which he has, and a whole lot faster than anybody probably he could.
Yes, the team’s two leading scorers are gone, and though Crawford was a fan favorite, he was one dimensional and when he wasn’t scoring, he wasn’t giving the team anything else. Randolph, for all the stats he filled a box score with, has never proved hes a winning player capable of playing completely within a system. His numbers this season were good, but too many times possessions would stall with his poor shot selection.
Their losses shouldn’t be mourned by Knicks fans, as the bigger picture is one with a very bright promise of hope, which is something they haven’t been able to feel since Isiah Thomas set the franchise back into a seemingly bottomless abyss.
Thanks to Walsh, hope can finally float for Knicks fans, as the franchise is moving in the right direction.
And in less than two years, that direction may lead straight to royalty in the form of a King.
James, that is.
I’ll preface this post by stating I openly admit to having little to no confidence in my predictions, nor do I claim to have any professional experience in making them.
I read the previews out there, I listen to talk radio and I use the old gut.
That being said, the NBA season tips off tonight, with Boston looking to defend it’s title and the Lakers looking to dethrone them behind first time MVP Kobe Bryant.
LeBron and the Cavs will looking to finally get over the hump, while out west the power may have shifted away from the Spurs-Mavs-Suns trio while being replaced by the Hornets-Jazz-Rockets three-some.
In the east, my Knicks will be better but still on the outside looking in at season’s end, while teams like Philadelphia, Toronto and Orlando will look to take another step towards deeper playoff runs.
I don’t want to get too specific, after all I do this for fun, so without furthter adieu, here is how I foresee the 2008-2009 season taking shape…
Eastern Conference Playoff Teams:
Boston– The defending champs won’t miss James Posey as they are still the most talented starting five in the NBA.
Cleveland– LeBron and his new look squad will reveal themselves as Boston’s biggest threat.
Detroit– Contract year for Rasheed, and assuming he stays, Detroit, despite a new coach, will continue their winning ways.
Toronto– This is Chris Bosh’s team, and as a result, expect Jermaine O’Neal to quietly put up numbers closer to the ones he put up during his best days in Indiana.
Philadelphia– A new “Brand” of basketball, Elton’s presence will propel Philly into the playoffs for the second year in a row.
Orlando– Still young and now with some playoff experience under their belts, Orlando might need a deadline deal to push them into the second round.
Chicago– Last year proves to be a fluke, as this team has too much talent not too make a postseason return with the help of Derrick Rose.
Milwaukee– Scott Skiles can coach, and this retooled team will be the biggest surprise in the NBA’s minor leagues…err…Eastern Conference.
Western Conference Playoff Teams:
L.A. Lakers- Kobe, Kobe and more Kobe. Oh, and a healthy Andrew Bynum, a full year with Pao Gasol and that ‘Zen-guy” head coaching.
Utah Jazz- Deron Williams and Carlos are legitimate stars, and Jerry Sloan just wins. That continues this year.
New Orleans- Everybody wants to talk about the Posey signing, but I’ll keep it simple. Chris Paul will score more, and win more.
Houston- Biggest move of the off-season was adding Ron Artest. A healthy year from Yao and T-Mac equal realistic title dreams.
San Antonio- Missing Manu Ginobili will hurt this team early, but having him healthy down the stretch will ensure they’re still playing after the regular season ends.
Dallas- Avery Johnson gone, core of the team remains the same. Kidd another year older, but a full year running that offense will be enough for a first round exit.
Portland- Greg Oden finally makes his NBA debut the year after he’s drafted, while Brandon Roy is an MVP candidate. This team finally takes the next step.
Phoenix– It may take more than 7 seconds or less, but the Suns will figure out a way to sneak into the playoffs as this team can still score with the best of them.
MVP: Chris Paul
Defensive Player: Ron Artest
Rookie of the Year: Michael Beasley
Most Improved Player: Devin Harris
Coach of the Year: Jerry Sloan
6th Man of the Year: Jason Maxiell
Knicks: 36-46, 10th in East
Nets: 30-52, 13th in East
2008-2009 NBA Champion
(drum roll please)
Check back in April to see if I have a future in fortune telling or selling fortune cookies.
Either way, it’s great to have the NBA back.
Let the games begin.
I bet I’m in the very, very small minority in thinking this, but Jose Canseco, who earlier today came out and said he regretted writing his bestselling book Juiced, has absolutely nothing to apologize for.
Is he a rat for betraying the fraternity of professional athletes and throwing many of his fellow teammates under the bus by revealing they used performance enhancing drugs?
But when it comes to apologizes he thinks he owes, whether it be to the players he turned his back on or the game that turned its back on him, I’d say no way, Jose.
Let’s face facts for a second:
Before Canseco’s book, the steroid in culture was nothing more than the big elephant in the room everybody did their best to turn their heads at.
Everybody from fans like you and me, to club’s management and ownership to the commissioner himself, post-strike baseball was a billion dollar business that wasn’t about to let some speculation turn away the very fans the sport was so happy to finally have back.
The steroid story has been told so many times and has become so well known by us fans to be considered baseball’s ‘New Testament’ of sorts.
Abraham, Issac and Jacob have been replaced by men far less worthy of any admiration, as names like Bonds, McGuire and Clemens have been the sport’s sacrificial lambs on it’s way to cleansing and redemption.
The game was stained, many believe permanently, and Canseco is at the top of the list of those responsible for bringing this toxic culture into the spotlight.
And while today Canseco apologized, and was quoted as saying
“If I could meet with Mark McGwire and these players, I definitely would apologize to them,” Canseco said, according to the New York Daily News. “They were my friends. I admired them. I respected them.”
First of all, it’s a good thing he referred to them as friends he used to have, as I doubt any of them would be welcoming him to their dinner table anytime soon.
That being said, while Canseco brought the skeletons out of their closets, the guilty parties have nobody to blame but themselves for being in the position they find themselves in.
Canseco was by no means a saint, as he admitted himself he was a heavy steroid user, and by breaking protocol and giving up the names of his former teammates, he lost any respect he may have had leftover from his one time promising career.
But respect aside, Canseco should be seen as the sacrificial lamb here, as it is thanks in large part to him, his own admissions of steroid use and his revelations of former teammates that baseball is currently cleaner (at least we are to believe) than its been in decades.
Performance enhancing drugs are being tested for in ways they never have before, and those athletes who were misguided enough and desperate enough to turn to them are paying a very deserving price.
Canseco can apologize all he wants, and if its pity or sympathy he’s seeking, he shouldn’t expect to find much of it, however as far as I’m concerned he doesn’t owe apologies.
I refuse to refer to any of those players as victims, because they are anything but.
The only thing they are victim of is their own poor judgment, as for whatever the reason, they felt it necessary to compromise the integrity of a game we love (not to mention a game we pay good money to enjoy) to give themselves an unfair competitive edge.
And if you want to make the Andy Pettitte argument, that he used HGH a handful of times to recover faster from an injury, I don’t want to buy it.
Guys like Pettitte are even more pathetic in my eyes, as instead of just admitting their mistake and taking full responsibility, they come out well after their names are revealed only to give us excuses in place of admissions.
I have more respect for a guy like Canseco, who saw the state of baseball and felt compelled to do something about, regardless of how we went about doing it.
And I’m fully aware most people if not all people will disagree with me, and tell me that Canseco is nothing more a rat who doesn’t deserve the time of day as he himself is an admitted steroid user and so on and so forth.
I’ll agree that the list of Canseco’s faults and mistakes is near endless compared to any good he has either done or tried to do since all of this steroid nonsense began.
But the fact of the matter is, nearly everything he said in his book proved true, and regardless of who he is or how we went about doing what he did, in some sick and twisted way, he deserves to be revered as a hero as like him or not, the state of the game was stained and at present time is far better off than it was.
I don’t happen to like Jose Canseco, nor do I have any sympathy for him and to a point, I don’t completely agree with how he destroyed the careers and even lives of some of his former teammates and fellow major leaguers. But I feel pretty damn good knowing that the game I’ve loved since I was 6 is finally getting itself out from the dark cloud it had been hidden under for most of the last decade.
When it comes to steroids and performance enhancing drugs, there is no gray zone, no in-between and no ifs or maybes. They were the source of baseball’s darkest period which occurred only a handful of years following the devastating 1994 work stoppage.
As baseball continued to be plagued by a coalition of liars and cheaters, it would be perhaps the biggest liar and cheater of them all who gave the sport something it needed more desperately than anything: honesty.
And for that, Jose owes nobody an apology.
Last Sunday, Shea Stadium lowered it curtain for the last time, closing the book on 44 years of memories.
While the ball club crashed their own party by failing to qualify for postseason play for a second consecutive season, Sunday was as much about remembering and celebrating the life of a ballpark that saw it all, from baseball to concerts to religious royalty.
When it opened in 1964, the still infant New York Mets finally still lacked the talent to compete, but no longer lacked a home of their own.
Located on Roosevelt Avenue in Flushing, Queens, Shea and it’s surrounding area leave little to be desired aesthetically, in fact more often than not the ballpark is referred to (being kind and keeping this appropriate) an eye sore (among many other lovely names).
When stadiums and ballparks go up today, the buzz word surrounding them is often ‘state of the art’, and while the Mets new home, Citi Field, will certainly fit the description, back in 1964 upon opening, Shea already seemed to appear outdated.
It didn’t help that less than 10 miles away sat another ballpark where another New York team played. A ballpark they said was built by some guy named Ruth. A ballpark where guys proclaimed they were the luckiest man on the faith on earth”. A ballpark that saw championship flags raised and a ballpark that saw both records and legends fall.
Ok, so Yankee Stadium has the history, the mystique and aura and the ghosts.
While Shea lacked all of the above, what it had was a team that gave New Yorker’s lovable losers, who brought National League baseball back to a National League town.
Those early years were as brutal as the traffic is getting there these days, but those Metsies (as Casey Stengal lovingly referred to them as) had charm.
It didn’t take long for Shea’s theater to feature its first true performer, as the right arm of Tom Seaver toed the rubber for the first time in 1965, the same year some kids from Britain sold the place out. From what I hear, they weren’t bad.
Beatlemania was fun, but it was four years later when miracles were made.
Led by Gil Hodges, who had already captured the hearts of New Yorker’s for so many years wearing Dodger blue, made those National League holdovers proud again with an Amazin’ finish in 1969, giving Shea some much needed interior decoration.
It won’t be soon forgotten that Shea hosted football too, and the Jets flying overhead had nothing on the
Just four more years later, another New York baseball legend, who told us it wasn’t over ‘til its over, had the Mets just a win away from a second championship.
Behind a rallying call so often still uttered, the ’73 edition of the orange and blue gave us “Ya Gotta Believe”, but ultimately gave us bitter disappointment.
The next decade saw icons take their final curtain calls (Willie Mays ’72 and ‘73), and also saw hometown heroes make unexpected exits (Seaver in ’77).
As Shea was hardly enjoying its teenaged years, it would be some teenaged stars that would be called upon to revive a drowning organization.
With a Doc and a Straw, the energy was back, even if the magic wasn’t (true Mets fan will appreciate the reference to one of the teams countless ill-fated marketing campaigns).
An MVP from St. Louis along with a ‘kid’ from Montreal, and the pieces were finally in place for Shea to host another October party.
With a game six groundball and game seven comeback, Shea was once again a house of champions, and once again the center of the New York baseball universe.
Another crushing playoff defeat in ’88 saw the end of an era in Queens, as young stars were quickly becoming troubled veterans.
As disappointment turned into embarrassment, and money couldn’t buy success, the dawning of a new era was arriving in the spring of 1998.
A Piazza delivery had a rejuvenated fan base buzzing, looking to quench it’s postseason thirst.
Just a year later, it was Piazza who delivered, as Shea prepared to get ‘wild’.
Never shy from dramatic, the Amazin’s brought with them back to playoffs some magic, as the names Pratt and Ventura were forever etched into both Mets and Shea Stadium lore for homeruns and grand slam…singles.
Another year, and another trip to the playoffs, this time with a National League crown to show for it.
A meeting with those cross town rivals scheduled, with more than titles on the line.
And although a mighty drive from Mikey fell harmlessly in the glove of Bernie Williams, the Yankees may have had their three-peat, but the Mets once again had significance (hardly compensation, but important none the less.)
Fast forward another year, to events that forever changed our lives.
September 11th, 2001 saw time stand still, and when it picked up again in the baseball world, Shea Stadium would serve as 55,000 seat therapist’s office.
Whether or not we should have been there was certainly a question, but by night’s end, doubts were erased with what many agree was the most significant swing Shea ever saw.
With broken hearts beating and crying eyes watching, Mike Piazza’s 8th inning home run might have given the Mets a lead, but more than that, gave a city a much needed chance to smile.
It didn’t win a playoff series, and didn’t clinch a championship- but it didn’t have to.
That swing was about more than baseball, and for the first time since those towers had fallen, New Yorker’s spirits were lifted.
After coming up short in 2001, Shea went silent again for another 5 years, surpassing the big 4-0 without any playoff celebrations.
Before there was talk of a new ballpark, there would be talk of the “New Mets”.
A superstar shortstop and a hot corner cornerstone, along with a hall of fame ace and all star centerfielder made up the framework of a new generation in Flushing.
Led by a GM from Queens and a manager from Brooklyn, it would take only two seasons for the “New Mets” to be National League East champions, dethroning 14 years of consistency down south.
In what few expected to be its final postseason party, Shea was home to a pennant clinching celebration it hadn’t seen in 6 years.
What few also expected, was watching the winners wearing the wrong colored caps, as a called third strike would make a legendary class go for naught.
Seeing it’s replacement finally take some shape, Shea watched it’s own demise slowly resurrect in its parking lost, while it watched the demise of its favorite tenants painfully play out within its walls.
Known simply as “the collapse”, the numbers 7 and 17 would forever be infamously synonymous with the Metropolitans, having nothing to do with a shortstop or a ‘stache’.
In 2008, Shea’s swan song wasn’t the only music playing, as the Piano Man hosted Shea’s last play…twice. With the help of some friends, including one who hadn’t seen Shea’s stage since he first graced it in ’65, Billy the Kid had the house rocking like it had some 40 years before.
Two weeks ago, we bid farewell to Yankee Stadium, known to many as the House that Ruth Built and baseball’s cathedral.
Among those who called it home included the Babe and Iron Man, a Clipper and the Mick. From Reggie and Thurman, to Donnie, Derek and Mo.
That other park in town, the one with the airplanes and the one that looked like it needed to be torn down not long after it went up, might not have been built by sultan of swat, or proclaim itself as religious arena.
Among those who call IT home were Tom and Tug, Daryl and Doc, Mookie and Mike, David and Jose. Not a Hall of Fame guest list per se, but not bad either.
To those who called Shea home, this author included, it might not have been the best looking and might not have fanciest.
It might have lacked mystique and aura, and it might have lacked a pretty white facade.
For all Shea might have lacked, it made up for with its familiarity and unexplainable charm.
To those who have called Shea home for any period of time, what it lacked in physical appeal it made up for with emotional sentiment.
Although few will argue it’s no longer up to the standards set by the new era of ballparks springing up, few will also argue that Shea will be torn down not having lived the fullest of lives.
It saw baseball and football, championships and heartbreaks, religious icons and rock and roll immortals.
But most of all, it was place where millions of people would gather for whatever the reason, not caring about what that place looked like, but more just how they felt once inside.
And more often than not, thanks to 44 years of moments and memories, they felt like they were home.
Flip the switch, pull the curtain down and tear it up already.
Shea Stadium was given an early farewell last night, thanks in part to yet another devastating loss by the New York Mets.
In falling 9-6 to the Chicago Cubs, this loss hurt as much if not more than any other this season.
And for all the blame the bullpen has (rightfully) earned this season, last night’s loss primarily gets credited to the offense, who failed miserably late in the game.
In the 7th, 8th and 9th innings, the Mets had runners on third base with nobody out, yet combined, they were able to muster only a bases loaded walk in the 8th, which at the time tied the game at 6-6.
There were two very questionable decisions made by the manager and one of his coaches, which were not sending Jose Reyes- the franchise’s all time stolen base king in the 7th inning which in turn led to Daniel Murphy lining out into a double place, as his rocket line drive landed harmlessly in the glove of first basemen Derek Lee, who stepped on first to retire both Murphy and Reyes.
In the 8th inning, following a Carlos Delgado lead off double, Carlos Beltran ripped a single to center, which could have potentially scored Delgado. Unfortunately, third basemen Luis Aguayo held Delgado at third without hesitation, preventing the tying run from even attempting to score. While Delgado would eventually score following a bases loaded walk, Jose Reyes couldn’t produce any bases loaded magic two nights in a row, grounding out weakly to second to end the threat.
And then came the ninth inning, where its safe to say and hope of the Mets making the playoffs came to a near dead end.
Murphy lead off, and laced a ball into right-center field, hustling his way all the way to third for a triple. Nobody out, runner on third, and up came the face of the franchise, the captain in waiting, the guy Mets fans wanted at the plate: David Wright.
Lou Piniella decided to allow his reliever, Bob Howry, to pitch to Wright instead of walking him and Delgado, in attempt to set up a potential double play with forces at any base.
Despite the fanfare surrounding him and the MVP talk which once again picked up some steam during the last week, Wright has been anything but valuable this season with runners in scoring position, hitting an inexcusable .242 in those situations, worked the count to 3-0, before fouling off a couple of very hittable pitches, only to chase a fastball well out of the strikezone, stranding Murphy at third. Piniella decided to have his reliever walk both of the Carlos’ to load the bases, and Howry proceeded to get Ryan Church to ground out to second, forcing Murphy at home, while Ramon Castro struck out.
If all of the air wasn’t sucked out of Shea following the Mets’ inability to score more than one run during those final three innings, it certainly was a half inning later, when with two outs and nobody on, Luis Ayala , in his second inning of work, allowed a single to Ryan Theriot, who after stealing second, scored on a bloop single to right by Lee. The final knockout punch was delivered by Aramis Rameriz, who crushed a home run off Ayala with a runner on, punctuating what would turn out to be a very forgettable night at Shea for New York.
The loss was crippling, not only becasue it was once again of the self-inflicted variety, but because with the Phillies getting mauled at home by the Braves, the Mets could have tied up Philadelphia in the loss column, while also maintaining their one game edge in the Wild Card- something of course they were unable to- as the Brewers took care of the Pirates in Milwaukee.
This loss certainly tops them all, and despite how bad the bullpen has been, and even despite Oliver Perez coughing up the 5-1 lead his team gave him, the Mets were gift wrapped an opportunity to put themselves in prime position to erase the nightmares of last season, needed nothing more than a fly ball from their third basemen.
For what it’s worth, and its hardly consolation after a loss last night, Carlos Delgado all but put penciled his name in next seasons opening day line-up after coming up huge once again last night. With the score tied at 1 in the bottom of the third, Delgado took advantage of a distracted Carlos Zambrano, who seemed to allow Reyes’ antics running down the third base line get into his head, as he served up a grand slam to the Mets first basemen.
Delgado also doubled to lead off the 8th, and eventually would score on that bases load walk, and did all he could to help get his team past the demons of last season’s collapse which seem to taking in Shea’s final days along with the fans.
Johan Santana can’t pitch every night, but it seems like down the stretch unless he’s on the mound, the Mets find ways to lose these pivotal late season games. Jerry Manuel seems hesitant to pitch his ace on short rest this weekend, although the situation may force his hand if come Saturday the Mets find themselves in an elimination game.
It just doesn’t get much worse than it was last night at Shea Stadium, which will now likely host it’s finall games Sunday, following another brutal loss which took the Mets’ playoff destinty officially out of their own hands, and puts their postseason hopes very much up in the air. And ironically, had David Wright done just that with a fly ball, we would likely be having a very conversation this morning.
But he didn’t, and the team took one step closer to missing out on playoff baseball for the second time in as many years, doing so in an eerily similar fashion, while taking all of the life out of ballpark dying to breathe some October air one more time.
Sadly, it appears those hopes, along with the team, are already flat lining.
Here we go again.
I know I’m beating a dead horse, and come to think of it, thats more or less what the Mets resemble, but Jerry Manuel’s ballclub seems to be flatlining once again despite being an arms reach away from a postseason berth.
Last night, the Mets found yet another way to reach rock bottom, as the fatal blow came from the opposing teams starting pitcher, who took rookie Jon Niese deep from a fourth inning grand slam which broke open a 2-2 game.
It’s tough to say whether or not this is deja vu all over again, as Yogi Berra once said, or whether or not the Mets will stop this lateseason landslide before they find themselves on the outside looking in for a second consecutive October.
Once again, the Mets control their own playoff destiny, as they maintain a one game over a Milwaukee Brewers team who has been trying its best to avoid a late season meltdown of their own.
And while the Mets will wake up this morning still holding onto a playoff spot, you wouldn’t know it by the vibes surrounding them.
Last night, Shea Stadium, beginning it’s final week of regular season baseball it’s rusting and rotting walls will ever witness, saw its crowd turn quickly on their favorite choke artists, as cautious cheers turned into defening, sustained boos.
The one big difference between this season’s late season slide and last is the absense of Willie Randolph, who ended up being the scapegoat for the 2007 disaster, losing his job in the middle of June earlier this season after his team failed to show an ability to get out of its own way through the first 70 games or so.
And while Randolph was enjoying the festivities Sunday night saying goodbye to Yankee Stadium, his successor may have to start preparing to say goodbye to more than his current ballpark come Sunday.
He may lose that interim tag after all- along with his chance of coming back next season.
But just as the blame was somewhat unfairly placed on the shoulders of Randolph, Manuel has done his best to weather this storm that only seems to strengthening by the day.
Once again, this falls on the players.
The bullpen has been putrid, but the offense continues to leave far too many runners on, notably in late game situations.
It would be a shame to spoil some of the feel-good stories around this team, whether its the resurgence of Carlos Delgado or the brilliance of Johan Santana.
And despite those, a failure this season to clinch a playoff spot would be nothing short of apocalyptic for this franchise, which is still very much trying to heal its emotional wounds from how horribly last season ended.
And yet with a chance to atone for their shortcomings last season, the Mets seem to be lacking the same killer instinct they needed last season, along with the mental toughness the team their chasing manages to find a nightly basis.
The Phillies, who were last season’s beneficiaries of the Mets collapse, have once again this year come from behind while leaving the Mets in their rearview mirrors, now holding a 2.5 game lead with the Mets having only 6 games left to play.
As Joel Sherman states in today’s New York Post, a second consective collpase would be “two much too handle”.
6 more games, at home, with the Cubs and Marlins at hand.
The Mets will start Santana tonight, and again on Sunday in Shea’s finale.
This is why the Mets went out and got him, and why GM Omar Minaya isn’t just yet preparing a resume for job interviews.
Santana’s maginificant season has come down to these last two starts, where he can help pitch his team into the playoffs and put the nightmarish memories from last season.
Succeed, and Shea Stadium will be given a stay of execution.
Fail, and everyone from Minaya to Manuel may not be so lucky.
I hate the New York Yankees.
It’s no secret and anybody who knows me knows that I hate the Yankees about as much if not more than I hate anything.
However, I’ve always held a great deal of respect for the history of the franchise, and my experiences going to Yankee Stadium have always been enjoyable, usually regardless of result.
That said, despite my feelings towards the team that calls it home, Yankee Stadium has been the site of a number of my greatest sports memories, starting way back when in 1996 when I took my first ever trip to The Bronx, late in October for game 6 of the World Series.
That’s right, myself- 9 year old kid without any real emotional connection to the team I was going to see- was introduced to the hallowed grounds on 161st street and River Avenue.
There was the first time I saw Monument park a few years back, along with day-night, two stadium doubleheaders.
There was watching my favorite player take a fastball to his head, and most recently, baseball’s midsummer classic, the All Star Game.
Any sports fan, regardless of team affiliation, can appreciate the history surrounding Yankee Stadium, and the seemingly endless number of legends who have graced its batters boxes and pitching rubbers.
From Ruth, Gehrig, Dimaggio, Mantle and Berra to Munson and Jackson and Mattingly to Jeter, Rivera, Williams and Rivera, some of the games greatest have donned the pinstripes and had the honor of calling Yankee Stadium home.
Since I was 9, I’ve been going to Yankee Stadium with absolutely no regularity, however the times I’ve been lucky enough to have been there, have generally been unbelievably special.
In honor of the closing of baseball’s most prestigious stage, here are my ten most memorable trips to the house that Ruth built.
10. July 24th, 1999
Yankees beat Indians 22-1; I watch all of it from a Luxury Box
This game stands out for two reasons (which I guess I gave away in my little headline), but it was the only time I dined at the Stadium club restaurant and sat in one of it’s luxury suites. As a pure baseball fan, I absolutely detest luxury boxes. They take you away from the crowd, and while the food is great, the experience isn’t. It also isn’t often you see a team score 22 runs in a game, and on this particular July afternoon, the Yankees did just that, highlighted by Chili Davis (you’re gonna hear his name again later…if you can believe that) drove in 6, while every Yankee starter with the exception of Paul O’Neil drove in at least one run. And for what it’s worth, Ricky Ledee, who came in as a replacement for O’Neil, drove in 3.
9. September 25th, 1998
Yankees earn 112th victory of the season
On pace to setting the American League mark for wins in a season (until they were surpassed by the Seattle Mariners in 2001), the Yankees won their 112 game of the year that night, and the atmosphere was playoff like despite the Yankees being heavily favored to win their second world series in 3 seasons. Orlando Hernandez pitched, and the Yanks took care of the Tampa Bay (still at the time) DEVIL Rays.
8. June 27th, 2008
2 Games, 2 Stadiums and 9 RBI’s for Carlos Delgado
The first day of the rest of Carlos Delgado’s season would turn out to be the last regular season game I would ever see at Yankee Stadium, and what a way to go out. The Mets, mired in mediocrity and less than 2 weeks into the Jerry Manuel era, Delgado decided to extend batting practice and go off, hitting two home runs that still haven’t landed. He came into the day with 36 RBI, and left the ball park with 45. As I’ll get into greater detail discussing later on, leaving Yankee Stadium having seen the Mets win a game there always put a big, fat smile on my face. Making the day even more special was leaving the Stadium, heading for the subway, and taking two of them back to Queens, arriving in more than enough time to catch the second game of the two stadium doubleheader. A very unique experience for most, but it actually was the second time I would be completing such a feat.
7. June 25th, 2004 and June 26th, 2005
Mets fans take over in two Saturday thrashings
I listed two dates here because on virtually the same day a year apart, the Mets played the second of three games during their annual visit to Yankee Stadium, and for the first time I was able to remember, I left Yankee Stadium to the sweet sounds of “Lets go Mets”, as the visitors from Queens won 9-3 in ’04, and 10-3 in 2005. In both games, by the late innings, the stadium had mostly cleared out, with Mets fans staying behind and making themselves feel at home (myself included, both times). The chants were loud and the house that Ruth built was temporarily being overrun by Mets fans. It was a wild time, and after years of making the trip to the Bronx and either leaving with a loss or a hard earned win, it was nice walking out with a victory, being serenaded with a chant unfamiliar to the ears of fans who usually fill Yankee Stadium.
6. August 10th, 2005
Yank’s edged out by White Sox; I’m Introduced to Monument Park
The game was exciting, going 10 innings and seeing the Yankees lose a close, 2-1 game to the visiting White Sox. However, this day was defined by my first ever stroll through Monument Park. If you haven’t been there, Monument Park is located out in left field, underneath that netting that are often the recipient of home run balls. While all stadiums retire numbers and honor their history in one way or another, Yankee Stadium is extra special in this manor, having their own hall of fame which contains not only the retired numbers and plaques of legends past, but honors the Pope’s visits, Stadium voice Bob Sheppard along with a moving plaque commemorating both the victims and heroes of September 11th, 2001. Walking around and seeing the plaques of Ruth and Mantle sent chills up my spine, however it was overwhelming to see how many great players have been part of the Yankee family, and for all of the terrible things I’m quick to say about the team, their history is second to none and earns all of my respect. Visiting Monument Park is something any baseball fan needs to do, and with all of the monuments and plaques moving across the street, anybody who didn’t get the chance to see it at the old ballpark needs to make sure they make up for it by visiting them in the new stadium.
5. July 8th, 2000
Two Games, Two Stadiums, One Memorable Hit-By-Pitch
On a long day of New York baseball that started in Queens with Doc Gooden toeing the Shea Stadium mound for the first time in his second stint as a Yankee, pitching well and earning a victory in the first game of the first ever Mets-Yankees two-stadium doubleheader. I made the drive from Shea to Yankee Stadium for the second game, which was a make up for a game I was supposed to have seen a month earlier but was rained out (for anybody who can remember, that rain out was made memorable by Robin Ventura dressing up, facial hair and all, like Mike Piazza and rounding the bases in the pouring rain with the tarp on the field, emphatically sliding into home). That night, Piazza himself was on the field, although not for long. Roger Clemens was pitching, and after being worn out by Piazza in recent years, he threw a fastball at Piazza’s head, drilling him and knocking him out of the game, and eventually the All Star Game. I will never forget the sound of the ball hitting Piazza’s helmet, as I was sitting in the upper tier between home and third with a clear shot of what was happening. In addition to losing their star catcher, The Mets would go on to lose the game, with Piazza’s beaning simply adding injury to insult as the Mets were swept in the twin-bill. Not the greatest Yankee Stadium memory of mine, but one I’ll always remember, for all the wrong reasons.
4. September 10th, 1999
Pedro nearly perfect, strikes out 17 in Red Sox Victory
In what many describe as the most dominating pitching performance by any visitor in the history of Yankee Stadium, then Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez was electric. Being only 12 years old, I sat there not fully aware of how well Pedro was pitching, but inning after inning, strike out after strike out, I started to get it. With the exception of a Chili Davis (there’s that name again) solo home run in the second inning, Pedro was perfect. Literally. He faced 28 batters, allowing only the one run on the one hit, and nothing else. He threw 120 pitches, 80 of which were strikes, and fanned 17 Yankees in the process. In 1999, Pedro ended up winning the Cy Young in what many also consider to be his greatest single season, finishing 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA. In addition to winning the American League Cy Young award, he was started the All Star game in Boston that year, winning the game’s MVP award, and also finished second in the overal American League MVP voting. I was lucky enough to see his 21st victory of that magical season he had, while witnessing perhaps the greatest single pitching performance by a visiting pitcher in the history of Yankee Stadium. Not bad.
3. June 17th, 1997
The Inaugural Mets-Yankees Subway Series (Game 2)
No, I wasn’t in attendance for the first ever regular season meeting between the inner city rivals, but I was there for the second game. While the Mets won 6-0 in game one of the series, I wasn’t so lucky, watching my team fall 6-3. However, among the things from that night I’ll never forget was the crowd and the playoff atmosphere in June. At 10 years old, I probably had no business being there, but that was at the point in my childhood where I was coming into my own when it came to understanding and appreciating baseball, and I knew I was part of something pretty special. If you haven’t caught on, most of my trips to Yankee Stadium over the years coincided with the Mets being there, and that Tuesday night in June back in 1997, my first ever exposure to regular season, Mets-Yankees baseball that was anything by regular.
2. July 15th, 2008
Yankee Stadium hosts the All Star Game one final time
Talk about a once in a lifetime opportunity. Yankee Stadium, in the midst of it’s final season, was hosting baseball’s midsummer classic. Not only was this an All Star game being played in my city, but with it being the lats one ever at Yankee Stadium, I figured they were going to be pulling out all the stops. Sure enough, by the end of a very, very long night, not only had I watched the longest game in All Star Game history (the game ended at 1:40 in the morning after 15 innings of baseball, but I was able to enjoy the largest on field collection of Living Hall of Famers including Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. The game itself, while it started slow, had a thrilling conclusion, ending with a walk-off sacrifice fly off the bat of Michael Young. Extra innings saw great escapes, outstanding defensive plays and guys being thrown out at home, and I sat uncomfortably in the left field bleachers all night, enjoying every second of it. I had never sat out in the bleachers before which only added to the uniqueness of the whole experience, and between the game, the hall of fame players and the fact that it was an All Star game- and the last to ever be played at Yankee Stadium- it was a memory nearly impossible to top.
1. October 26th, 1996
A Dynasty is born; I make my first ever visit
The fact that (to the best of my memory) this was the first time I had ever stepped foot in Yankee Stadium, I couldn’t have asked for me. Game 6 of the 1996 World Series, and not only was I- a 9 year old- going to be there, I was sitting in the lower level down the third base line. A few points to make. First of all, at 9 years old, I was a Mets fan but hadn’t developed any hatred whatsoever for the Yankees, which would explain the Wade Boggs jersey and Yankees cap I showed up to the game wearing. Secondly, the fact that it was my first ever time in Yankee Stadium was secondary to the fact that when I saw Charlie Hayes snag that final foul pop off the bat of Mark Lemke (yea, I remember), I was watching the start of what would be a powerhouse Dynasty in the Bronx, and first real postseason success during their course of 12 consecutive playoff appearances. It was Joe Torre and Derek Jeter being officially welcomed as ‘true Yankees’. It was watching Wade Boggs ride around on a police horse, celebrating his first ever taste of championship glory.
In thinking back, I have no idea why I was lucky enough to experience some of these great Yankee moments, especially considering how much I despise the team.
That being said, as a baseball fan, I will always cherish the chance I had to live so close to a place so special, and witness some of the greatest moments in the history of a franchise that, like it or not, stands second to none when it comes to baseball royalty.
And so, as the gates come down for a final time tomorrow night, in a late September game that is unusually irrelevant, Yankee fans and baseball fans will say goodbye to a stadium that was anything but. And regardless of who you root for, anybody who calls them self a baseball fan- especially in New York- is going to miss baseball’s cathedral, and in that spirit, here’s a confession of mine:
I know I will.
The great thing about sports is how often history likes to repeat itself.
Off the top of my head, I think of the countless times the great athletes like Michael Jordan and Tiger woods find ways to overcome adversity and come out victorious.
I think back to 2001, when the Yankees found themselves in the same situation on back to back nights, trailing the Diamondbacks in the ninth inning and hitting two out home runs to help win World Series games.
I recall Adam Vinitiari drilling not one, but two game winning field goals to clinch Super Bowl victories for the Patriots.
And wouldn’t you know it, here in 2008, history has once again poked it’s ugly head up, this time in the case of The New York Mets.
I don’t think anybody can forget their epic collapse last season, which of course is highlighted by the fact they could not capture a division crown, no less a playoff birth, despite having a 7 game lead with 17 games left to play.
The fell harder and faster than a brick off the top of a hundred story building, and sure enough, a full calendar year later, they find themselves with a healthy (although not as hearty) lead in their race for a National League East title, with- you guessed it- 17 games left to play.
They’ve played 145 games to this point, splitting them between a season that has really been the combination of to individual era’s: The end of Willie Randolph’s, and the beginning of Jerry Manuel’s.
Of course you could also argue the Mets really picked things up when their first basemen decided he had been hibernating long enough.
Carlos Delgado has gone from being asked out of town to the talk of it.
His numbers since June 27th are eye-popping, as it was that afternoon he hit two home runs and drove in nine against the Yankees in the first half of a two stadium double dip in the Bronx.
That would be the final game the Mets would ever play at Yankee Stadium, preparing to lower its curtain a month earlier than expected with the Yankees all but dead, and their slugger left it looking an awful lot like the guy they claimed built it.
OK, so Carlos Delgado is no Babe Ruth, but his performance down the stretch has put the Mets in prime position to put the nightmarish end to last season behind both his team and their fans.
These Mets can’t seem to figure out whether or not they are in fact a reincarnated version of last year’s losers. Despite many of the same faces, it’s the fresh ones who seem to provide the most hope in avoiding another dreaded September disaster.
They have a new manager (Manuel) who has a new go-to guy (Johan Santana) in his rotation, which is something the last guy (Randolph) didn’t (no, Tom Glavine fell a bit short).
Ryan Church, Dan Murphy and Luis Ayala have all helped their new team in a variety of ways, however it’s also been the guys who were hear that have been contributing.
Jose Reyes, who seemed to fall in love with popping out for the last month of last season, looks fresh and energized, and has continued his potential MVP pace (that’s right, Delgado isn’t the only guy who should be in that discussion).
Carlos Beltran has been ever so quietly putting up the same consistent numbers he has the last two seasons, and while his home run numbers are down, his batting average is up.
A quick note about Beltran- for all the talk about him being overpaid and out of place in New York, the guy will once again finish the season with over 100 runs scored and 100 RBI, while hitting between 25 and 30 home runs and (at current pace) hitting between .275 and .285. You can debate whether or not that’s worth the contract he signed, but the fact of the matter is he has been playing his best baseball over the last 3 weeks (when the games have counted most) while also continuing to play gold glove defense in center field.
Mike Pelfrey, whose face we saw last year but without the results, has been a savior of sorts with his solid numbers since June, winning 11 games to an ERA of less than 3.00 since.
With 17 games left, the team also has a number of question marks surrounding it.
Their closer, Billy Wagner, underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this week and likely has pitched his final innings as a Met.
David Wright, despite his 4-4 performance the other night, still needs to cut down his swing and go back to driving the ball up the middle and to right field. Doing that successful with runners in scoring position wouldn’t kill him either.
The bullpen? Still a heart attack waiting to happen each and ever night, and can certainly be credited with Manuel’s recent anointment of his team as “Team Tightrope”.
Forget about the velocity issues with Pedro Martinez, right now he needs to remember where the strike zone is if he wants any hope of getting another contract offer from the Mets, as he becomes a free agent at seasons end.
Oliver Perez has been relatively reliable since Randolph’s firing, however another recent meltdown against last place Washington signaled a potential warning for the organization. Perez is also in his contract year, although based on his potential and agent (Scott Boras) he’s likely all but assured an overpriced deal.
The Mets have 17 games left to do what they were unable to last season, which is simply hold on.
They lead the second place Phillies by 4 games in the all important loss column, and wrap up their season playing 13 games against the Marlins, Braves and Nationals, teams a division winning team should beat.
Then again, facing the same teams down the stretch last season, the Mets were unable to take care of business, making unprecedented, unwanted history.
The Mets now look to make sure what happened last season isn’t repeated.