Mets Card of the Week: Mystery Met XV

Mystery Met 15

Damn. This young Mets hopeful has so much chaw in his cheek that he can’t even keep his hat on straight.

Identify this fan of the cut plug and you will be rewarded with a small haul from the Card of the Week archives.

 

A short personal note: I’m going to be taking an indefinite hiatus from writing for Mets360. I am very grateful for the opportunity to have been provided with a forum for my ramblings over the years, and thank Brian for creating and maintaining the site (as should you all).

I’m also incredibly thankful for anyone who has taken the time to read my stuff over the years, and hope that I’ve been able to offer at least some brief entertainment/diversion. To each and every last one of you: You’re wonderful…

 

Mets Card of the Week: Four Stanzas on a Partially Completed Checklist

72 CL front

I had a crude grip on the pencil when I filled in these squares–
High up the neck and held too tightly,
The hexagon imprinting
Lines on my fingers
That would remain there for hours.

This was the sixth and final series and summer was over–
Second grade had started, and I imagine
That white-haired Ms. O’Connell
Was impressing on me
The need to hold a pencil correctly.

During lunch I’d sit at my desk with a secret stack of cards:
Blefary, Archie Reynolds, Griffin In Action,
Willie Montanez, Foli,
Dunning, Kaat, and Bahnsen,
Paul Blair but no Bill Virdon.

The checklist is a fossil now and only half complete–
Did I stop recording progress,
Or end that year’s collecting
To instead absorb stern lessons
On how to hold a pencil?

72 CL back

Mets Card of the Week: Baseball goes to the movies

[Editor’s Note: The Card of the Week fact-checking team is unavailable this week, suffering as they are from collective nervous exhaustion brought on by Card of the Week’s consistently tenuous grasp of the very facts that they are sworn to uphold. As a result, we cannot vouch for the complete accuracy of this week’s installment.]

While it might be off-season for baseball, it’s on-season for the motion picture industry, what with the Academy Awards looming in late February.

We here at Card of the Week love the movies almost as much as we love our national pastime, so we present for your consideration a brief history of baseball-themed films.

Bride of the Yankees, 1942
A horror classic, this gem revolves around Babe Ruth‘s demand that the Yankees create him a mate. The ensuing creature is called “Gehrig” and he can only communicate with Ruth via short grunts and sibilant hisses.

Abbott and Costello in “Who’s on First?”, 1946
Many are familiar with the beloved “Who’s on First?” comedy routine, but only the most dedicated cinephiles have seen the original full-length movie version. The three-hour film was a huge influence on both Sam Peckinpah and Quentin Tarantino, particularly the last 30 minutes, wherein Costello is finally driven irretrievably mad by Abbott’s linguistic trickery and shoots him square in the face.

Fehr Strikes Out, 1960
Twelve-year-old little leaguer Donnie Fehr strikes out to end the 1959 Kansas Klassic and vows that he will one day have his revenge by canceling the World Series.

The Bad News Bears, 1977
The original is still the best, although it must be said that some have a soft spot for the first two sequels, Beneath the Bad News Bears and Escape from the Bad News Bears. The less said about the 2005 remake starring Billy Jo Robidoux, the better…

Eight Men Out, 1988
Never seen this one, but I think it’s a porno.

Bull Durex, 1988
Again, porno.

Fidel of Dreams, 1989
Tells the story of the young baseball-loving leader of the Cuban revolution, who one day in 1962 hears a voice whispering to him, “If you build sites capable of launching Soviet-supplied SS-4 and R-14 missiles, he will come.” Longing to just have one chance to play catch with John Kennedy, Fidel heeds the voice…

Men in Black, 1997
According to IMDB, this is apparently some kind of sci-fi movie, but most people know it best as the place where Bernard Gilkey got his start as an actor, with his memorable depiction of Befuddled Bernard Gilkey.

Gilkey MIB

Mets Card of the Week: History of 31

31

It’s reasonable to expect that the Mets will retire Mike Piazza‘s 31 this year.

It’s equally reasonable to expect that they’ll handle the announcement in their patented tone-deaf manner, timed so that any reasonable cynic could mark it as compensation for a lost free agent or a lost season.

But never mind that– the bottom line is that the book is now closed on 31. So what better time to take a look back at the 14 players other than Piazza who have worn the number in team history, ranked in descending order…

14. Don Rose
Contrary to his name, Don never actually did rise– his time with the Mets amounted to two innings pitched in the backend of a September doubleheader in 1971. He achieved his greatest fame as the bag of balls the Mets sent to the Angels in the accursed Ryan for Fregosi trade later that same year.

13. Les Rohr
This native of Lowestoft, Sussex is one of 47 players in MLB history to be born in the UK. Also, he is the only player in MLB history with the middle name “Norvin.” That’s it.

12. Ron Herbel
Ron “Legalize It” Herbel logged 13 innings for the 1970 Mets, to the tune of a 1.38 ERA, but the team dealt him to the Braves for Bob Aspromonte in the offseason. (Fun fact: “Ass Pro Monte” was my porn name for a brief time in the mid ’80s.)

11. Gene Walter
Perhaps one could make a case that Walter should rank higher on this list, but I have an avowed prejudice toward players with given names for surnames. So Mike Scott, Nolan Ryan, Cliff Floyd? You can all go straight to hell…

10. Dwight Bernard
See previous entry.

9. Roy Lee Jackson
OK, see previous two entries. Plus, see 2-9 career Mets record, and attendant 4.80 ERA.

8. Larry Bearnarth
Points for persistence. Bearnarth pitched for the Mets from 1963 through 1966, compiling a 13-21 record over the course of 322.2 innings. He then found himself back in the minors until early 1971, when he pitched in two games for the Brewers, to diminishing returns.

7. Julio Machado
Gets some extra love from me because reading his name makes me start singing Hakuna Matata from The Lion King, always and without fail.

6. Bruce Berenyi
Another Elton John musical cue here: B-b-b-berenyi and the Mets.

5. Jack DiLauro
Contributed 63 quality innings to the Miracle Mets.

4. Harry Parker
Contributed 96.2 quality innings to the Ya Gotta Believe Mets.

3. Mike Vail
Ranked this high due solely to the Streak of ’75.

2. Ed Lynch
Gave the team seven years and over 730 innings of his noodly right arm, without ever once succumbing to the fascistic lure of the strikeout (tossed 190.1 innings in 1985 while registering just 65 Ks).

1. John Franco
It might be a bit extreme to suggest that we have a Bill Dickey/Yogi Berra dual-number-retirement scenario on our hands here, but it must be said that Franco did 31 as proud as Baskin-Robbins…

Mets Card of the Week: 2016 collecting resolutions

As I sit here writing this on January 1, my head still sore from all that stiff pink Topps gum I shoved in my mouth in the midst of last night’s revelry, I am overcome by the sincere desire to be a better baseball-card collector in the coming year.

So to that end, here are my collecting resolutions for 2016.

Acquire an autographed David Wright card
I have a small and somewhat random collection of autographed Mets cards, ranging from Bill Pulsipher to Tom Seaver with Keith Miller in the middle, but I don’t own a single signed card of the Captain. It’s time to right this wrong, and a bear market for his signature will make it a relatively painless transaction.

Complete my 1970 Topps set
OK, forgive me for getting all grad school up in here, but I began putting this set together more than 10 years ago due to the Proustian resonance of these cards, the first ones I ever purchased as a small child. Something about the austere gray borders, script player names, and blunt, blocky team appellations reaches deep into my core and strokes a nerve. I’ve been two cards short of completing the set for going on five years now, and I admit that I’ve taken odd comfort in the persistence of the unfinished quest. But mark my words, Pete Rose and Frank Robinson— I’m coming for you…

Complete my T206 Brooklyn set
Bill Bergen, batting variation– the mere existence of such a card is powerfully ironic, given that Bergen was one of the most horrendous hitters in the history of the game. Now granted, he played from 1901 through 1911, when the ball was made of a cured goose liver and bats weighed 37 pounds, but he still managed just a .170 average and two home runs over the course of 3,228 plate appearances. So this is hardly an in-demand card in the legendary T206 tobacco set. But for some reason, while I’ve picked up three of his fielding-variation cards (and for those of you inclined to go down such rabbit holes, I have a Piedmont, an Old Mill, and a Tolstoi), I haven’t managed to snag a single one of Bergen wielding his mortal enemy: a bat.

Experience the life-changing magic of tidying up
This is my baseball-card closet:

card closet

Now, on the surface of things, it doesn’t look too bad. But really each and every 800-count box in the pile is a hodgepodge of a mishmash of a potpourri of a salmagundi. I need to find some kind of organizing principle– be it team, manufacturer, year, player hair style– roll up my sleeves, and bring order to chaos.

Mets Card of the Week: Mystery Met 14 revealed

June 30, 1962.

In San Pedro de Macoris, a shortstop was born. Of course, the birth of a shortstop was essentially a daily occurrence in San Pedro de Macoris back in the day, so allow me to be a bit more specific: future Mets shortstop Tony Fernandez was born.

I Can’t Stop Loving You by Ray Charles was the number one song in America, and Hell is for Heroes was tops at the box office. (Hell is for Heroes is a WWII action flick that was apparently cast by a mental patient– it featured Steve McQueen, Bobby Darin, Fess Parker, and Bob Newhart.)

And in Los Angeles, the Dodgers were hosting the 20-52 Mets at their sparkling new stadium in Chavez Ravine.

Bob L. Miller was on the mound for New York, facing a 26-year-old southpaw who was just starting to figure things out. Guy by the name of Koufax

Richie Ashburn, Rod Kanehl, and Felix Mantilla put up little to no fight in the top of the first inning, striking out swinging, swinging, and looking, respectively.

Miller retired Maury Wills and Jim Gilliam to start off the bottom of the inning, but then the wheels fell off faster than you can say Bob G. Miller.

A triple/single/walk/single/double/single sequence led to four Dodger runs and brought Casey to the mound to replace his starter.

Stengel called on former Brooklyn farmhand and Mystery Met subject Ray Daviault to stanch the bleeding, and he did so by retiring Koufax on a foul pop to Frank Thomas.

Mystery Met 14

Daviault pitched 7.1 innings in relief that day, allowing no further damage beyond a solo homer to Frank Howard. He did not get a win, but it was the longest and finest performance of a big-league career that amounted to 81 innings pitched, a 1-6 record, and a 6.22 ERA for those motley newborn Mets.

Koufax? Well, he went on to pitch the first of four career no-hitters on June 30, 1962, striking out 13 in the process…

Mets Card of the Week: Mystery Met Episode 14

It’s hot-stove time here at Card of the Week, and now’s the chance for you to do some winter wheeling and dealing of your own.

Here’s the offer on the table: be the first to identify this old-timer with the Astro Boy do and I will send you an assortment of Mets cards to fill those holes in your lineup.

Mystery Met 14

Mets Card of the Week: 2015 Yoenis Cespedes

2015 TOPPS CHROME UPDATE YOENIS CESPEDES

2015 Cespedes

Last week’s meditation on Mike Piazza‘s brief time in Miami was sparked when I pulled this pulsating piece of chrome out of a box from the local Target.

Yoenis Cespedes‘ lifespan with the Mets will probably amount to 57 regular-season games and the length and breadth of the 2015 postseason. Longer and more meaningful than Piazza’s stint with the Marlins sure, but still just a relative blink of an eye…

However, opinions are divided over whether the team is taking the right approach in declining to spend the nine figures it would likely cost to retain Cespedes.

Those who would prefer to let him walk can certainly point to his essential disappearance in the playoffs and World Series, a performance that sometimes seemed to border on flat indifference. He exhausted the collective patience of the fanbase by attempting to launch three-run homers with no one on base, and with an approach to defense that was more tailored to the pitch than to the outfield.

Of course, his proponents would argue that Cespedes carried the Mets into the playoffs, that without a month and a half of his Wonderboy bat and howitzer right arm, the team would not have been playing late October/early November baseball. The true believers scan his given name and see an “is NY” word jumble; they mumble gnomic riddles about parakeets and neon compression sleeves; they believe that he is fated to do more for the team.

I am in sympathy with both camps here, and would not really curse either prospective outcome. For now I’m just happy to have this shiny Topps card as a memento of the magic and potencia of the 2015 Mets season…

 

Mets Card of the Week: 1998 Mike Piazza

1998 LEAF ROOKIES & STARS MIKE PIAZZA

Sometimes I’m sure it was a hallucination.

The idea that Mike Piazza‘s road from Los Angeles to New York included a week in Miami playing for the Florida Marlins just seems surreal.

But fortunately a number of card companies were on hand to capture this mid-1998 madness.

Among the sets to document Piazza’s time in teal was a product that was having a weird 1998 of its own.

Leaf Rookies & Stars was due to be issued originally as Leaf Rookies & Chase, until parent company Pinnacle went bankrupt that summer. Playoff Brands stepped in and arranged to release the set, distributing much of it through retail channels such as Wal-Mart in pre-priced 12-pack $29.99 boxes.

The cards were relatively hard to find, and became very popular in the ensuing years, with the short-printed rookie of Troy Glaus booking for upward of $125 by the time Y2K came knocking.

The set included both a tight action shot of Piazza in his Mets gear and a short-printed card picturing him in the midst of one of his 19 plate appearances for the Marlins.

Piazza MetsPiazza Marlins

Interview with former Mets prospect Jeff Grose: Part 2

INTERVIEW WITH JEFF GROSE: PART 2

Last week in this space we featured part 1 of our discussion with Jeff Grose. We heard about his early days with the Mets, Spring Training memories, and the onset of arm troubles. We wrap up today with his recollections of some of his teammates, the emotional end of his playing days, and yes, baseball cards. Mets360 extends its sincere thanks to Grose for sharing his history and enriching our site greatly in the process. (And a shoutout to friend of the site Jim O’Malley for sharing a page from the Mets 1975 Organization Sketchbook.)

Grose register

Mets360: You were teammates with many players who are quite familiar to fans of the late-’70s Mets, among them John Stearns, Nino Espinosa, Mike Scott, Hubie Brooks, and Neil Allen. Any memories of your teammates you’d like to share?

GROSE: Ironically, as I watched Chase Utley barrel over Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada in the NLDS, I was reminded of John Stearns. He was nicknamed “Bad Dude” from his college days and he lived up to that nickname when going in to break up a double play. Unfortunately for him many of the Dominican shortstops would drop down low with their return throws to first to make runners slide early to protect them from getting creamed. One day Stearns caught a throw in the middle of his forehead. He got up to run back to the dugout and ended up running toward the bullpen. That incident never deterred him from going in hard– he was a “bad dude.”

 

Mets360: Were you especially close with any particular players during your career?

GROSE: I was very close to Jeff Reardon in AA and he would ask me to watch him throw in the bullpen if he was struggling with his mechanics. I had, and still have, a good eye for pitching mechanics. He went on to have a wonderful career (although some of post-career stuff may have tarnished his image) and I would like to think that I had some influence over that. All of the pitchers that I pitched with in the minor leagues were great teammates. We worked together to win at whatever level we were pitching at.

 

Mets360: You had a pretty strong final season with Jackson in 1978 (2.45 ERA, a shutout, only 31 hits allowed in 44 innings pitched). You were still just 23 at this point– how and why did the relationship with the Mets end?

GROSE: My arm had been hurting me for three seasons and my final year in Jackson I sat out the first month or so of the season to get my tonsils out. We always referred to the regression from AAA to AA as going from a prospect to a suspect. So at 23 I was considered done. However, the manager at Jackson that year, Bob Wellman, was an awesome manager. He knew that I could still pitch, but that every five days was a problem. My arm would hurt so much after a start that it would take me a week before I could pitch effectively again. However, I remember that we needed a win in the final game of the regular season to clinch the Eastern Division of the Texas League. He called me in to his office the day before the game and told me that he was giving me the ball, he knew that I would win the game. Well, I knew that it was my swan song, my final chance to go out with a bang. I found out earlier the day of the game that my little brother had been hit in the eye in a baseball game back home and that he would never see out of that eye again. So I dedicated the game to Wellman and my brother. I struck out the first nine guys up and pitched a one-hit shutout. One of my best memories as a pro. As it turned out, my first start in the playoffs I called Wellman out in the first inning and handed him the ball. We used to say “stick a fork in him, he’s done”– well, I was done. The Mets released me that winter and the Padres called offering me a contract. I have always second guessed not signing with them and hanging on for a few years; however I always swore that I wouldn’t be a hanger-on like some of the players that I watched who were done and they wouldn’t accept it.

 

Mets360: Are you familiar with the passage from Roger Angell’s book Five Seasons concerning Spring Training, 1975: “Between [Jerry Koosman and Randy Tate], there was an appearance by a good-looking Mets sprout named Jeff Grose, who is only two years out of high school. Grose, a southpaw, showed us a live fastball and a smooth, high-kicking motion, and he hid the ball behind his hip on the mound, like Sandy Koufax.”

GROSE: My mother, who was a huge baseball fan (it’s in our blood), somehow found a copy of that book and I have one in my possession. It is flattering to be compared to Koufax and to know that even though I have always felt that I fell short of my ultimate goal, to pitch in a regular season major league game, that other people saw that I had the potential if my career hadn’t been cut short by injury. My other regret is that had I not been so rebellious I could have stayed on as a pitching coach and been around the game that I love so much for much longer.

 

Mets360: I’m curious whether you collected baseball cards at all as a kid growing up in the ’50s/’60s.

GROSE: Growing up my grandparents lived in Baltimore and us in New Jersey. I loved the Orioles and the Yankees, there were no Mets back then. I’m sure that I had all of the Yankee greats, I know I had an autographed Yogi Berra card, which he signed at a Yoo-hoo promotion. Unfortunately, we would put those cards in the spokes of our bikes. Thousands of dollars destroyed for the sound. We used to flip cards to try to win our friends’ cards. It was a different time. I still have some cards laying around somewhere in an old shoebox.

 

Mets360: Do you have any recollections regarding the Topps Spring Training photoshoots?

GROSE: I remember the Topps Spring Training shoots. How exciting to think that I would have a baseball card. Then, in 1975, Topps makes the decision, I think for the first time, not to print the whole 40-man roster and instead just the 25-man roster that was starting the season. It was a royalty thing. Why pay someone if you don’t have to? I recently saw a Topps card of me, 40 years later, which mysteriously showed up on my Verizon phone in my VZ Pics. Where it came from is unknown. It is a 1976 card with “Minors” printed on the upper-right-hand corner of it. Weird!

Interview with former Mets prospect Jeff Grose: Part 1

INTERVIEW WITH JEFF GROSE: PART 1

Back in November of 2014, Card of the Week’s Mystery Met episode 9 featured a fresh-faced ’70s prospect named Jeff Grose. The internet being the strange and magical thing that it is, the piece made its way back to Grose, who left a quick note in the comments section. It is our great good fortune that Grose consented to a follow-up interview, and shared some memories of his time with the organization back in the days of Nixon, Ford, Carter, Seaver, Matlack, and Stearns. Below is part 1 of our conversation; check back here next Wednesday for the conclusion.

Mystery Met 9

Mets360: You were selected by the Mets in the 14th round of the 1972 draft, a 17-year old high-school kid out of New Jersey. Did you expect to be drafted? How did you find out that you had been picked?

GROSE: There were as many as 10-12 scouts, both professional and college, watching me pitch at the end of my final high-school season. Several told me that they were interested in drafting me. I averaged two strikeouts an inning and had already pitched three no-hitters that year. I also had teams interested in me as a first baseman because I could hit as well. So I was cautiously optimistic of being drafted. The Mets scout, Pete Gebrian, called the day after the draft to inform me. It was incredibly exciting.

 

Mets360: So that same year, you found yourself in the small town of Marion, VA, playing for a rookie-league team managed by former Met Chuck Hiller. What kind of adjustment was it being away from home at that age, traveling around the Appalachian League?

GROSE: My first several weeks in Marion were an eye opener. It was my first time away from home so that was a little scary. Marion was a tiny little town nestled in the Appalachians, and was nothing like New Jersey. I couldn’t pitch the way that I did in high school because now every hitter was good. After like my third game, which I got hit hard in, Hiller called me into his office and told me that one more performance like that and I was going home. I can remember the tears rolling down my face as my dream of pitching in the major leagues appeared to be short lived. Needless to say everything changed after that. My next game I pitched as if it were my last and that was how I pitched for the rest of my career.

 

Mets360: How would you characterize what type of pitcher you were (eg, crafty lefty, fireballer, etc)?

GROSE: My fastball was clocked at only 90 at my peak so even though I considered myself a fastball pitcher, compared to some of the other guys that I pitched with that would be a contradiction. One year, if my memory serves me, I was on a staff with Mike Scott, Juan Berenguer, Neil Allen, and Jeff Reardon. One of the opposing players told me how happy they were when I pitched because they felt like they at least had a chance. My fastball moved a lot, and I had a pretty nasty curveball. My problem was locating my curve and changeup. When you move up the food chain everyone throws hard, location is the key.

 

Mets360: You moved up that food chain pretty steadily over the course of the next several years, from low A to high A to AA and finally to AAA in 1976. What were your experiences like in Spring Training down in St Petersburg as you progressed through the system?

GROSE: Walking into my first Spring Training in 1975 was pretty intimidating. All of the pitchers that I idolized, Seaver, Koosman, and Matlack, were still around. Willie Mays, Joe Torre. Ed Kranepool, Bud Harrelson, etc. I remember thinking, “What the f*** am I doing here with these guys?” Then one day I was throwing on the side and Tom Seaver was watching me. He said to me, “Man, you can really throw hard for a little guy.” I was only 6’, 170 pounds. It was then that I felt that I belonged. I actually got into an argument with the bullpen coach, Joe Pignatano, the first Spring Training game because Rube Walker, the pitching coach, told me that I was first up in the bullpen that day and Joe got someone else up. I think he told me to “Shut the f*** up and sit down” and I told him, “F*** you, I’m supposed to be first up.” I pitched an inning against the Cardinals the next day. I was the last pitcher on the staff sent down to the minor leagues at the end of Spring Training. I remember Yogi Berra telling me that I would be back; however, the next spring was the first players’ strike. Unfortunately, when that Spring Training began I tried to throw too hard too soon and my arm problems began.

 

Mets360: You had thrown a fair amount of innings by the time you were 21, and of course this was during a less-evolved era in terms of caring for pitcher’s arms.

GROSE: We always went out to pitch a complete game. The relief pitchers, at that time, were usually pitchers who had gotten shelled earlier in a series or a guy who couldn’t crack the starting rotation. So we wouldn’t want to hand the ball to one of them in a close game. I would say that on average I threw around 130-150 pitches a game. We were taught to pitch to the corners and if we were ahead in the count, to get the hitters to chase a bad pitch. I still cringe when watching a game when a pitcher throws a fastball down the middle or gives up a hit on an 0-2 count. My first full season in Tidewater, 1976, I was having trouble locating my curve. I was getting hit pretty hard so I decided to start throwing a slider. I had a good one; however, I should have eased myself into throwing it, as that was when I hurt my arm for good. I found out years later, after I struck out 18 hitters in 9 innings in the men’s over-30 World Series, that it was a torn labrum. I had surgery; however, there was so much scar tissue from years of abuse that I would never throw pain-free again.

Click here for Part II