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.
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.
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.
So we know the story by now, Willie Randolph was unceremoniously let go by the New York Mets in the most disgraceful of ways, having been flown cross country to manage a game his team would win, only to fire him in the middle of the night.
This just didn’t sit right with me, so I decided to ask around and find out why exactly this went down the way it went down.
Plus, my anger and frustration about the whole thing needed to be balanced with something to laugh about.
If you live in the New York area, you should be able to appreciate most of the references.
10. After losing out to Emmitt Smith for a spot in the latest Just for Men advertisement, he was offered a spot in a new Giuseppe Franco Procede commercial, but declined, which must have ticked off team brass that had set up a meeting between the two.
9. During his final meeting with team management, he was asked what his ultimate goals were for this season, and upon revealing they included “going to Disneyland”, he was granted his wish. (Randolph was fired with the Mets in Anaheim)
8. Knowing that a possible firing was imminent, an opportunity fell into the laps of ownership with their trip out west, knowing that Joe Torre was now managing in Los Angeles, Willie was convinced to fly cross country by being promised a chance to spend all of his free time with Joe.
7. When catering in from Subway for post game meals, Willie was told the sub’s would no longer be freshly toasted, upsetting the manager and causing an even greater rift between himself and his superiors.
6. Management found out Willie was an avid Soprano’s fan, and so after Jets head coach Eric Mangini was given a cameo in a final season episode, Willie wasn’t pleased. To appease their manager, they executed a Soprano’s style hit on him, having Omar Minaya fly out despite assuring his manager everything would be fine. Omar was originally against the idea, but when Stevie Van Zandt was unavailable (Silvio Dante), Omar took matters into his own hands.
5. Was told that should the phrase “the Yankee way” be uttered one more time, his job was as good as gone. At that moment, Jose Reyes popped his head in the room, smiling ear to ear thanking Willie for a gift he found in front of his locker, a DVD set featuring the 1996-2000 Yankee Championship teams. After Jose quietly tip-toed out of the room, management took one look at Willie, and the rest as they say, is history.
4. In a private meeting with ownership, he was asked to comment on his working relationship with GM Omar Minaya, and said while he felt the two worked well together, suggested that it would be in the best interest of both him and the organization to hire Isiah Thomas. Management considered the idea, but decided Isiah would probably end up creating too many off the field distractions, something they believed Minaya wasn’t capable of.
3. After watching an episode of Celebrity Apprentice following Sunday’s doubleheader, Willie joking commented to owner Fred Wilpon that “it’s a good thing we’re not on that show, because you’d have probably canned me months ago”. After an awkward pause, Wilpon politely told Willie to enjoy his flight.
2. Was told he’d be given job security if he agreed to manage the rest of the season wearing the Mr. Met costume, but refused only because he was afraid of the racial connotations he would expose himself to wearing a giant white baseball for a head. When he said he’d sooner manage wearing a Mickey Mouse costume, making the decision to fire him minutes from Disneyland too poetically appropriate to pass up.
1. Was told for the final time that he would not be released from his contract during the season to audition for American Idol, and upon Willie being visibly displeased with this decision for the 4 consecutive year, management told him they had come up with a compromise, but refused to elaborate saying “lets put it this way, you’re definitely going to Hollywood”.
I went to bed a little after 1am on the east cost, the Mets having just won 9-6 out in California, and as far as knew, manager Willie Randolph had survived another day of rumors and speculation surrounding his job status.
Sure enough, roughly two hours later, in the middle of the night, following a 3,000 mile flight and a win, Willie Randolph was fired.
Regardless of whether or not Willie deserved to be fired, and cases can be made for and against his dismissal, the way in which it was handled was an absolute atrocity.
Mets management, headed by owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon, along with General Manager Omar Minaya who reportedly flew out to Anaheim to meet his ball club, had the nerve to allow Randolph, and his entire coaching staff, to travel cross country, manage and coach on Monday against the Angels, only to announce this decision at midnight in a hotel room.
It was a classless move by an organization that really shouldn’t wonder why they continue to be seen as second rate in a city that features another organization that has had it’s own share of bad press in the handling of a managerial move when Joe Torre left the Yankees last fall.
In the Mets’ handling of Willie Randolph’s firing, they once again proved to be a bigger story off the field than on it, which has seemed to be the class all season.
Before a single pitch was thrown this season, the talk was about last season’s epic collapse and the impact it was going to have on the team heading into a new season.
There was Billy Wagner calling out his teammates for lacking accountability after losing 2 of 3 to the lowly Washington Nationals, supposedly pointing in the direction of the lockers of Carlos Delgado, among others, when stating that
“You should be talking to the guys over there,” he snapped to reporters in the clubhouse…”Oh, they’re not there. Big shock,”
There was the self-inflicted controversy surrounding some comments Willie made to a reporter regarding the criticism he was receiving, and whether or not race was an issue worthy of being considered.
“Is it racial? Huh? It smells a little bit…I don’t know how to put my finger on it, but I think there’s something there. Herman Edwards did pretty well here and he won a couple of playoff [games], and they were pretty hard on Herm. Isiah Thomas didn’t do a great job, but they beat up Isiah pretty good. … I don’t know if people are used to a certain figurehead. There’s something weird about it.”
Randolph did apologize, and a press conference was called simply to announce he had been spoken to, marking the second press conference called by the Mets organization to give a public vote of confidence to Willie, although neither time (the first being following the end of the last season) left you feeling like management was fully backing their manager.
It is more than fair to have questioned the job Randolph had done between the lines, and his firing wasn’t unjustified. However, the manner in which it was handled was almost sickening.
One report out states that The Mets had already made this decision prior to their leaving for the west coast, and if true, that only epitomizes the lack of any decency this team could have shown three of their employees.
Randolph, his coaches and his players, had endured weeks of questions and wondering amid a disappointing start to their season, and the uncertainty around Randolph’s job was clearly a distraction to a team that needed nothing less than something other than baseball games to focus on.
Willie will likely be more remembered for the way his team collapsed last season, losing a 7 game lead with 17 games to play and relinquishing an opportunity to win back to back division titles for the first time in franchise history.
His record of 302-253, with a winning percentage second only to Davey Johnson in Mets history, is now a thing of the past, as Randolph can take another 3,000 mile trip back across country to finally rid himself of the sorry excuse for a ballclub he had probably lost the ears of.
The word being most thrown around the press this morning is cowardly, referring to the way in which the Mets handled this whole thing, and a more fitting word doesn’t exist. I probably sound redundant but the way in which this was handled was just without class and without any sense of professionalism.
As a Mets fan, and as somebody who has bled Mets orange and blue and both follows this team and supports it as closely and and as hard as anybody, I can’t feel worse for Willie, in spite of the fact that finding justification for his firing isn’t all that difficult.
But somebody who has invested lots of time, energy and no shortage of money into this team, I find myself utterly ashamed of the team I root for, and quite frankly, pretty upset with the way in which this all happened. If the team wanted to fire Willie after the collapse, fine. That would have been understood. If they wanted to fire him back in New York a few weeks back when the media was all gathered and a press conference had been called at Shea to announce his staying as manager, that would have been acceptable.
But this was, for lack of an original word on my part, just completely cowardly and disgraceful.
To announce this decision in the middle of the night, in all likelihood to avoid the publicity disaster which awaits Omar Minaya and the rest of management later today, and to avoid the newspaper headlines and media circus sure to present itself at the team’s 5pm conference.
Maybe it’s ironic or maybe just meaningless coincidence, but Willie’s final days at Shea Stadium as manager took place with his predecessor, Art Howe, sitting just a few feet away in the opposing dugout. Howe was no stranger to a similarly graceless exit, as the team had announced with two weeks left Howe would be fired at season’s end, yet stayed on to manage as a lame duck.
For a team that has lacked consistency on the field, they certainly have shown it off the field, and for all the wrong reasons.
On a day in which the world of sports showed us that humility and grace still exist in the form of U.S. Open runner-up Rocco Mediate, the Mets reminded us that the other end of the spectrum is very much alive as well.
The team’s hierarchy should be embarassed and ashamed of the way they handled themselves, looking only to protect their image in the process, while showing no regard for the people whose jobs they were taking away.
And for a team that has always played second fiddle to the other team in town, they can pat themselves on the back because they finally found a way to upstage their crosstown rivals, by giving their manager an exit only George Steinbrenner could have executed.
This was a classless move, by a classless franchise, and the only positive thing I can think of coming out of this is that Willie and his dismissed coaches can rid themselves of the real disaster here.
The team itself.
But I have to say that my time with the Mets wouldn’t have been the same without the greatest fans in the world. One of the hardest moments of my career, was walking off the field at Shea Stadium and saying goodbye. My relationship with you made my time in New York the happiest of my career and for that, I will always be grateful.”
Mike Piazza, while announcing his retirement from professional baseball
A hero is defined as “an illustrious warrior”; “a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities” as well as “one that shows great courage”.
Living in New York City, the term hero underwent a facelift after the terrorist attack on September 11th, 2001, as the brave policeman, fireman and other rescuers took on the hero role, and fittingly so. With all due respect to those men, as well as the soldiers overseas and those probably more deserving of the hero title, but from the minute he arrived on May 22nd, 1998 Mike Piazza became my hero.
Everybody has their own interests, whether its music, movies or sports (among countless others) and within those interests, chances are everybody has a favorite artist, singer, actor, actress, athlete and so on and so forth.
Well, as a young kid growing up in Queens, there was no thrill bigger than going to Shea and watching Mike Piazza play baseball for the New York Mets.
From the day he was acquired in May of 1998, through all the memorable home runs and accomplishments, up until his fareware back in ’05, Mike Piazza was always larger than life for me.
Before Mikey was traded to the Mets, my favorite players were rather generic, whether it was Ken Griffey Jr. or Cal Ripken Jr to name a few. The Mets weren’t very good and certainly did have the household name- big time star player who I could brag about having on the team I root for.
But when Mike Piazza arrived, and singlehandedly changed the culture in Queens, making the Mets matter again, he had no bigger fan than me.
I must have spent hundreds of dollars on his baseball cards, t-shirts and plaques, while the very authentic jersey I got as a gift was a pinstriped Mets home jersey with the number 31 and Piazza’s name on the back of it.
You have to understand, I wasn’t just a fan of his, I did anything and everything I could during my childhood to watch him play and get close enough to him for an autograph, because that was what was important to me when I was 12.
My first Piazza memory came a year after the Mets traded for him, as the team held their annual photo day at Shea, where you were allowed to walk around the field before the game and take pictures of – not with- the players.
Well, Mike was standing there, among the final players you could photohgraph, and standing jus a few feet away was a shaking, nervous 12 year old.
As nervous as I was, I realzied this was probably the closest I was ever getting to him, so I ran up to him, shook his hand, and had an absolutely perfect picture taken of the moment, with both Piazza and myself looking directly into the camera.
After Piazza arrived, I had my parents drag me to batting practice before games, desperately trying to get his autograph.
Finally, when the Mets took a trip up to Boston for interleague play in 2000, divine intervention was at work as I just so happened to be staying in the same hotel as the Mets.
Upon walking out of the hotel, I, along with a storm of other Mets fans, followed Mike halfway down a block as he got on the team bus.
I managed to push my way right beside him, asking him for an autograph, with his response being “sorry bro, I got a game to play” (exact words, forever engraved into my memory) and proceeded to get on the bus.
As disappointed as I was for Mike not signing an autograph for me I knew I wasn’t giving up in my persuit. Sure enough, when i got to Fenway, I made a mad dash for the visiting dugout, where I was fully stretched out, arms and legs, smothered by dozens of other fans, trying to toss Mike a ball to sign.
And wouldn’t you know it, in what is among the greatest single moments of my childhood, he reached out for the baseball I was holding and signed it.
To this day, I cannot remember a single moment- sports related or not- which had me smiling ear to ear the way I was after getting Mike Piazza’s autograph. Just thinking about it brings me back.
It may not sound like much, but to a 13 year old kid, having his idol sign a baseball for him was about as big as it gets. I can’t really put into better words how incredible a moment that was.
I could probably fill up a book with Mike Piazza moments, but there are a handful which standout.
I was at his second game ever with the Mets. I remember that being the first time I had asked my parents to specifically get tickets to this game. Piazza was now on the team and I needed to be there to see him in person.
Remembered a lot for the big home runs he hit, for whatever reason, Mike Piazza seemed to have power outtages when I was there to see him. I probably went to somewhere between 100 and 150 games between when he arrived in 98 and 2005, and I think he probably hit less than 10 home runs in those games.
That being said, the ‘quality over quantity’ argument holds true, because of all the home runs Mike Piazza hit, there is one that will always stand out above all the others.
Im not talking about a walk off against Trevor Hoffman, or the capper in the 10 run 8th against Atlanta.
I’m not talking about the grand slam off Clemens in Yankee Stadium, or the shot which gave him the most home runs ever by a catcher.
No, I’m talking about an 8th inning homerun he hit of Braves reliver Steve Karsay on September 21st, 2001.
Just 10 days after the attack on the World Trade Center, baseball had made its first appearance in New York City. Shea Stadium was the site, and with emotions running high, the Mets and Braves provided New Yorkers with their first chance to escape, live and in person.
I was lucky enough to be at the game, and between the pre game ceremonies, the sining of God Bless America and New York, New York and the fact that the Mets happened to be in the midst of a pennant race, it was an overwhelming night to say the least.
Through 7 and a half innings, The Mets were struggling to put anything together offensively, trailing the Braves 2-1.
With a runner on, Piazza stepped up to face Karsay, who left a fastball just a little too much over the plate, and with one swing, an entire city was lifted.
Piazza crushed a bomb of a home run to left center, getting a reaction from the crowd that you had to be there and experience first hand to fully understand.
With everything going on, just a short 10 days after the most horrific attack on this country, a city that had been devastated was on its feet, cheering and screaming, while also crying and praying.
For me, not only was I just happy to be watching my favorite team playing baseball again, I had my favorite player- my hero- step up and deliver like only true heroes do.
To this day, I get goosebumps just thinking about that night, along with all of the other Mike Piazza memories.
Watching as he said goodbye in the final game of the 2005 season, I’ll tell you I cried for the first time in my life for something sports related.
When he came back the following season, I had tickets and got to Shea earlier than I had for any game in my life, making sure I had a spot on top of the visitors dugout, making sure I was among the first to see him back at Shea for the first time since leaving.
Standing and cheering his name throughout the night was terrific, and props to the Mets for playing Piazza’s entrance song Voodoo Child when he stepped up to the plate for his first at bat.
Even watching him hit a few homeruns the following night, AGAINST my Mets had me clapping and smiling.
The year after that, I had box seats when the Oakland A’s came to town, and little did I know I would be seeing Mike on the field at Shea for the last time ever. He was injured and not playing, but did come out to present the lineup card, receiving another thundering ovation from the crowd.
After two season playing to extend his career as long as he could, refusing to quit on the game he loved, Mike Piazza called it a career this week, saying good bye and thanking everybody from his teammates to former managers, and of course the fans.
I look forward to the day Mike Piazza is inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame, hopefully wearing a Mets cap when doing so. Regardless of the cap he wears on his Hall plaque, I plan on being there, in Cooperstown, watching Mike join baseball immortality, giving myself just one more memory with Mike, one last chance for me to cheer and smile like I’m 12 again.
But most of all, one final chance to see my hero.
Somebody once asked me “What do you think of Flushing, Queens?” and quickly responded with “Sounds like a great idea”
I laughed at the time, and thinking about it now, the state of the team who calls Flushing home isn’t in the best of places.
While Flushing is hardly one of the finer areas New York has to offer, the atmosphere inside Flushing’s favorite big blue eyesore has become toxic.
Things are an absolute mess in Queens, as the 2008 Mets are looking far too much like the 2007 crew which orchestrated what can only be described as “the collapse”.
After 39 games, roughly a fourth of the season, this team lacks a pulse.
Going into this past homestand, having 7 games at hand with the last place Reds and last place Nationals, the Mets had an opportunity- AT HOME- to take care of business heading into the overhyped and overrated Subway Series.
A 3-4 record later, this team is spinning out of control, and the breaking point may have come, as closer Billy Wagner, who did not appear in the Thursday afternoon debacle of a loss to Washington, was being interviewed and had the following to say:
“”Someone tell me why the (expletive) you’re talking to the closer. I didn’t even play. They’re over there, not being interviewed. … I got it. They’re gone. (Expletive) shocker.”
Unlike Paul Lo Duca, who last season made similar remarks while choosing to include race in his rant, Wagner simply stated the obvious, that this ball club lacks any sort of accountability.
Billy is known for being outspoken, and occasionally says things he probably shoudn’t have, however he could not be more on the money right here.
This Mets team has played with no heart, no passion and has never held itself accountable.
We can start with the manager, Willie Randolph.
Message to Willie- that warm feeling under your rear end is in fact the proverbial “hot seat” warming up more and more as these losses mount.
Today was arguably the lowest of lows, as the offense flat out didn’t show up, and there were not one, not two but three costly mistakes made which came back to cost the Mets chances to score runs.
Whether it was David Wright and Luis Castillo not running out a fly ball, Jose Reyes cluelessly trying to take an extra base on a sacrifice bunt, or Carlos Beltran- supposedly- being instructed to run on contact as Carlos Delgado lined out into a double play with 1 out in the bottom of the 9th-, the Mets seem to be spiraling out of control both on the field and off of it.
Today was yet another microcosm of the bigger problem, which is the constant indifference this ballclub has showed since the middle of last season.
Where do we point the fingers?
First and foremost, Randolph needs to held responsible for failing to get whatever message he’s trying to send to his players.
Maybe they’ve stopped listening to him, but as the manager, you need to be responsible for getting the most out of your players. The manager needs to know how to handle a bullpen and when to take out a struggling relief pitcher.
Willie Randolph, for all right buttons he seemed to push back in 2006, his words seem to be falling on deaf ears, and the results aren’t showing.
For all the money being put into this team, a 20-19 record is unacceptable, and the only way I believe this team responds is by somebody taking the fall.
And as has been said countless times, you can’t fire the players, so the logical next step is to fire the manager.
You heard it from here, on Thursday evening- the 15th of May after only 39 games- the New York Mets and Willie Randolph need to part ways.
Billy Wagner placed a much needed magnified glass over the problem, which simply put is the apathetic attitude this team is plagued by game in, game out.
Placing blame player to player is too difficult, as its easier to go through who has shown some signs of life this year, as it’s as a much shorter list: Wagner has been relatively lights out, Ryan Church and Brian Schnieder have validated the Lastings Milledge trade and Moises Alou has picked up right where he left off at the end of last season.
The laundry list of issues can start with the brothers Carlos, as both Beltran and Delgado haven’t provided the middle of the order with any production.
Jose Reyes is hitting under .260, and continues to lack plate discipline. He has turned into an offensive enigma.
David Wright, despite the fans believing he can do no wrong, is hitting something around .160 with runners in scoring position, meaning the 32 RBI’s he has should be closer to 50.
Johan Santana, for all the money the Mets have paid and the prospects they sent to Minnesota in exchange for him, has been average, maybe slightly better at best.
At 4-2 with an ERA of 3.10, his numbers aren’t a good indicator of his mediocrity.
His velocity has consistently been in the high 80’s, while he’s usually good for no more than 6, MAYBE 7 innings.
The home runs ball continues to be his worst enemy, but allowing 10 hits to the Reds last weekend (although he did win) could be a warning sign as to how vulnerable he can be without his best stuff.
Oliver Perez is consistent at being inconsistent, giving you two bad starts for every good start.
Aaron Heilman has been flat out dreadful, and needs to be banished to a mop-up role until he can find himself.
The funny thing is, while the fans love to boo a guy like Aaron Heilman, you better believe he goes home at night and cares an awful lot more than a Carlos Beltran.
Can we blame management?
We sure can, but they don’t deserve nearly as much of the blame, as Omar Minaya’s two biggest offseason moves (Santana from the Twins and the Church/Schenider for Milledge trade) can be deemed successful…or at least successful enough.
Ownership has repeatedly stated to wait until more games have been played to gauge the heartbeat of a team that to this point hasn’t shown one, so at somepoint the Wilpon’s will need to figure out who’s the first scapegoat for this disaster.
As a fan, this is frustrating, and is demoralizing because it seems that everybody connected to the ballclub with the exception of the players themselves cares about whats going on, however the only ones capable of doing something about it are the guys who play inbetween the white lines.
Until that happens, expect the carelessness to continue, and the longer they continue not to care, the more and more the fans should consider following suit.
There is still plenty of time left in this young season for all of this to be turned around, but as April has turned into May and May will soon turn into June, something needs to happen before heads start to roll.
Willie Randolph, you’re on notice.
4/1/08 (**updated at 11:00 pm EST**)
On April Fools Day, the Mets probably were hoping their joker was merely pulling their leg.
Well, a leg was pulled, but unfortunately for the ballclub, that leg was attached to the body of one Pedro Martinez.
Pedro left his start Tuesday night in the bottom of the 4th inning after he appeared to sustain an injury to his left leg, while following through on his delivery.
Pedro retired Matt Treanor on a ground out, but Treanor would be the last batter Pedro would face, as he gingerly was helped off the field and disappeared into the Mets clubhouse with the training staff.
During the 8th inning on SNY, Mets reporter Kevin Burkheart stated he had caught up with Pedro on his way out of the ballpark, who told Burkhart he “heard a pop” in his left hamstring.
The early word was a strained left hamstring, and was listed as day-to-day, however anybody who has been watching baseball for an extended period of time knows that hamstring injuries are almost never a day-to-day injury, and you can add onto that the fact that Pedro is 36 and a pitcher who relies heavily on his legs for his success.
Matt Wise gave up a game winning homerun to the Marlins Robert Andino, the first of his young major league career.
The Mets may have lost the game in 10 innings, but the news was all centered around their veteran right hander.
With his history of injuries, one shouldn’t be surprised that Pedro hurt himself, however the timing really acts like a punch in the stomach when you consider all the good vibes surrounding him coming out of spring training.
He gave us the spring cliche “greatest shape of my life” rant which you had no choice but to believe based on how sharp he looked down in Port St. Lucie.
Unfortunately, only 3 1/3 innings into his first start of the year, on the first day of April, Pedro might be spending more time back in St. Lucie rehabbing yet another injury.
The injury puts even more strain (no pun intended) on an already thing Mets rotation, with Orlando Hernandez on the disabled list still building up arm strength to pitch 6 major league innings.
Mike Pelfrey currently is serving as the teams fifth starter, and is slated to pitch Saturday in Atlanta.
Thanks to off-days, the Mets may not have to replace Pedro’s spot in the rotation for at least a start or two, and only time will well what the health conditions are of both he and El Duque.
Mets fan hoping to see Pedro toe the rubber at Shea Stadium’s final hope opener will most likely end up seeing either Oliver Perez or John Maine when the curtains go up for the final time at the big blue ballpark in Queens.
For now though, the concern rests in the left leg of the Mets self-proclaimed former ace and resident number 2.
Knowing Pedro, day-to-day is as reliable a diagnosis as a meteorologist telling you the forecast is partly cloudy with a chance of showers.
And when it comes to Pedro Martinez and the Mets, the forecast just got worse.