Me and Richie, me and Fitz, me and Scott, me and Alex, & me and Mets.360

The Mets have a new owner. The Wilpons are gone. Tom Seaver has passed away.

Standing at this crossroads in the team’s history, this seems like a perfect opportunity to mark my departure from writing. I’d like to thank Brian for giving me the chance to write for Mets.360.

I had a dream the other night about Ed Kranepool and he was in a high school gym choosing up sides for a basketball game. Three of my oldest friends were with him: Richie, Fitz, and Scott. They started playing two-on-two and I watched from the sidelines. I was ok with that.

I’m ok with this decision too. It marks another milestone in my life and many of the markers on that road are etched in Met history.

When we were in our early teens, our parents let me and Richie take the L.I.R.R into Shea and go to Met games without adult supervision. That was unbelievably huge. I still remember sitting along first base and wondering if the old guy in front of us was Rusty Staub’s father (because he had red hair). We still laugh about that. We’d play stoop-ball one-on-one and we’d take turns being the Met hitters and pitchers. We’d be everyone from Dave Schneck to Buzz Capra.

Later, after I got out of the Army, Fitz and I started to go to games. Fitz got tickets to a Banner Day game and we rigged up some crappy-ass banner in order to get onto the procession on the field. Willie Stargell was in the visitor’s dugout and Fitz (who attended college in Pennsylvania) yelled to him. He told Stargell that he was in the audience when he had given a motivational speech at his school. Stargell just looked at him and said, “Move along, kid”. During the second game of the doubleheader, we snuck down to the box seats around first base and kept yelling “Hot Dog” to Willie Montañez. I seem to recall that eventually he yelled something back at us too.

Then, in the mid-eighties, Scott got a job as a programmer for Doubleday Publishing and ended up getting nice tickets to games. They were mezzanine seats directly behind home plate. We watched Dwight Gooden pitch to Gary Carter. Scott was a lifelong Yankee fan but knew that those Met teams from that era were special. So was Scott. Unfortunately, he passed away (I guess it is about twenty years ago now). We still all participate in a Rotisserie League he formed in 1987.

In the nineties, as my son Alex grew up, we started going to games. We’d try to get to at least one game year. Through business connections, I had access to very good box seats along the third base line. We could get into the Diamond Club and the Charcoal Room and be able to see the World Series Trophies and Hall-of-Fame busts. One time, while riding the crowded elevator to that level, Omar Minaya got on and stood next to me and Alex. It was shortly after Minaya had fired Willie Randolph. I said, “Mr. Minaya, this is my son, Alex”. He turned at me and said, “hello”. Then after an awkward moment, I said, “Mr. Minaya, we support your managerial decision”. He just looked at me like I was a stalker and quickly told the elevator operator to stop at the next floor. As the doors opened, and he stepped out, I could see him quickly motoring down that hallway. I believe he thought I was a bit crazy. A few years ago, my son told me that he had always thought he was a friend of mine we had randomly met there.

Several years ago, I connected with Brian about writing for Mets.360. This past year was my second stint with this unique family. I’d like to thank Brian again for these opportunities. I even forgive him for snatching Seaver away from me in this year’s All-Time Mets Draft.

And now more than ever; Lets Go Mets!

Mets Song of the Month: ‘I Got Me a Seat Out at Shea’

This song was a long time coming.

It started out as song about the brass plates in the parking lot of Citi Field (where the bases at Shea used to be).  That ended up being just a couple of lines in this one. Then I tried doing something about the Polo Grounds and that didn’t go anywhere.

It ended as sort of a companion piece to the “Willie Kneeling” song.  The verse about Tommie Agee’s home run is based on a true experience. I loved sitting in Shea’s right field bleachers looking down into the bullpen.

The Lyrics:

Well I’m takin’ the train
To the Woodside Station.
Then hopping on the #7 line.
I’ll be getting off at Shea
‘Cause Koosman is a pitchin’
And I want to see Jerry pitch

Shea is still standing.
She hasn’t been torn down.
All her bases are there.
They ain’t brass plates in the ground.
And I’m seein’ all them faces
That I used to go there with
And the sun is a’shinin’
On a warn sunny day.
Yeah, I got me a seat out at Shea.

Lookin’ down from the bleachers
Into Pignataro’s Pen
Then Agee angles one at me.
And I’m just sitting
Watching that home run a’spinnin’.
And everything’s slow motion
And that ball is a twistin’.
It all looks so very real to me.

Trying to find a reason to stick with Steven Matz in 2021

Don’t get me wrong. I like Steven Matz. He’s easy to root for as a Long Island kid pitching for his hometown team. Overall, however, his 2020 season didn’t build on his 2018 and 2019 performances.

In his sixth season with the team, the 29-year-old southpaw went 0-5 in six game starts (plus three relief appearances), with just over 30 innings pitched. He gave up 33 earned runs including 14 home runs. His ERA was 9.68 and his WHIP was 1.70. He was placed on the 10-day injured list on August 30th and returned to action on September 13th. A two-week stint on the injured list might not be too big a deal in a full 162 game season but in a shortened season, the impact of that injury was multiplied. This impacted the team, even more so, when you factor in the performance issues with Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha plus absentee issues with Noah Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman.

When writing a proposed 2021 roster, I suggested that the team move on from Matz and deal him. The general response to that seemed to indicate that many readers have not given up on him. What drives that support? What things can we find about his performance this season which offers hope for improved future results?

Some things to consider:

o In 2020, Matz produced a 36:10 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

o It should be noted that team’s 2020 pandemic-reduced schedule was not an easy one and Matz had to face the Braves twice, the Nationals three times, plus the Yankees, the Rays, the Phillies, as well as the Red Sox once each. The shortened schedule along with the reduced number of teams faced certainly didn’t help any Mets pitcher.

o Matz’s velocity remained consistent throughout the season, ranging between 93 and 95. His lowest velocity game (93 mph) occurred in his first game back from the injured list against the Braves on September 18th, when he gave up six earned runs on eight hits in just under three innings pitched.

o In 2020, Matz gave up 13 of his 14 home runs against righthanded batters.

o Matz will turn 30 at the end of May next year.

o His two best performances this year were his first two starts. He gave up one earned run in a six inning non-decision against Atlanta on July 25th. He then gave up three earned runs in just over five innings against Boston on July 30th.

If the overall consensus is that Matz is part of the solution and not part of the problem, it seems logical that he be used in a role that provides the highest percent chance of a successful outcome. As such, a relief role seems to be the best choice. An opponent can exploit a weakness in a starter by stacking their line-up but a reliever can exploit an opponent’s line-up by facing a specific sequence of statistically vulnerable batters…

Jerry Koosman in the bullpen (1970)

Back in 1970, the Mets were the darlings of New York and the sports world. They had just come off the miracle championship season. I was 13 and my father took me to see them play at Shea Stadium. Jerry Koosman was the starter.

I had gotten a Polaroid camera for Christmas that year and took it with me. We sat in the bleachers and I took a couple of photos. I recently discovered these in an old photo album. Since this was a Polaroid, the photos came right out of the camera and I was able to write on the back of them what was on the image.

The first one is a photo of the field with Koosman and Nolan Ryan doing some laps. Unfortunately, it’s got that seating bar across it (I’ve gotten a little better at taking photographs since then). I am, however, struck by the openness and simplicity of the stadium though. No advertising, just the numbers on the outfield wall showing the dimensions (I still remember it was 396’ in the power alleys and 410’ to dead center).

The second photo is looking down into the Mets bullpen. There is Koosman again; warming up. His jacket is off and he’s getting ready for the game. Off to the right are some of the players’ cars. You can see the economics of the game displayed. The team was young. They had kids. These players drove station wagons. The bullpen itself is, like the stadium itself, pretty sparse. It is very wide-open. About half dirt and half grass. Koosman is standing out in the open throwing and probably throwing to Joe Pignatano. There is a single light pole out there and nothing else.

These two photos are certainly not museum quality shots but I think they capture the simplicity of the game. Baseball is best seen through the eyes of a kid. When Peter Alonso says Tom Seaver smiled at us after hitting a game-winning home run against the Yankees, it bypasses statistics, and contracts, and revenue, and advertising and places itself within the game’s timeline; within its consciousness.

Years from now, some fans will recall the Alonso moment and say I remember when he hit that home run the day we found out that Seaver had passed away. When I look at that photo of Koosman, I can recall when I was just a kid looking down on a hero getting ready for the game. I don’t recall who won and that doesn’t really matter too much because from a kid’s perspective, it isn’t really important.

What the Mets’ Opening Day roster could look like in 2021

Here’s to keeping our fingers crossed that Steve Cohen gets the requisite number of votes at the forthcoming owner’s meeting. Assuming he does, what might the deeper pockets of the new ownership mean for the 2021 opening day roster?

Overall strategy: This version of the roster was designed to retain most of what the team had in place during the shortened 2020 season. The argument being those players that didn’t get off to a solid start never really had ample time to correct the issues. The season was too much of a sprint and not a distance run.

However, some notable removals from the team are: Yoenis Cespedes, Todd Frazier, Wilson Ramos, Robinson Chirinos, Steven Matz, and Robert Gsellman.

Specific Moves/Comments: There was not further contact between the team and Cespedes; his run was done. There was no effort to bring back Todd Frazier as a player, however, actions regarding him returning as the third base coach were taken. The catching tandem of Wilson Ramos and Robinson Chirinos were let go in favor of one of the two big acquisitions. Steven Matz was dealt to the Washington Nationals for a righthand-hitting outfielder, Michael Taylor. Robert Gsellman was similarly dealt to the Detroit Tigers for a second righthand-hitting outfielder, Victor Reyes.

The team devoted a lot of energy into the pursuit of J. T. Realmulto signing him to a long-term (six-year deal) at $30,000,000/per year. This made Realmulto the second highest paid player on the team behind Jacob deGrom. The Mets also let bygones be bygones and brought back Marcus Stroman on a long-term (five-year deal) at $ 18,000,000 per year. The Mets also resigned Rick Porcello to a one-year deal at $10,000,000.

Important Notes: Because of the expected recovery time of Noah Syndegaard, the Mets started the year with him on the reserve list. This allowed Seth Lugo to begin the season as a starter with Corey Oswalt getting a spot on the roster out of the bullpen. Role adjustments could be made depending on how the season develops.

The team attempted to even out their line-up by the acquisition of two right-handed outfielders.

The team’s overall perspective was that the installing of the best catcher in the game would help not only pay dividends offensively but in the overall performances of their pitching staff as well.

This strategy left room for the team to handle player salary increases as well as to begin negotiations on a long-term deal with Michael Conforto.

Starting Pitching:      
Jacob deGrom 33,500,000.00    
Noah Syndegaard – injured* 9,700,000.00    
Seth Lugo 2,000,000.00    
Marcus Stroman 18,000,000.00    
Rick Porcello 10,000,000.00    
David Peterson 563,500.00    
Relief Pitching:      
Jeurys Familia 11,000,000.00    
Chasen Shreve 575,000.00    
Justin Wilson 5,000,000.00    
Dellin Betances 6,000,000.00    
Ediwn Diaz 5,100,000.00    
Corey Oswalt 580,000.00    
Brad Brach 1,250,000.00    
Miguel Castro 1,050,000.00    
J. T. Realmulto 30,000,000.00    
Tomas Nido 576,826.00    
Robinson Cano (2b) 24,000,000.00    
Peter Alonso (DH/1b) 652,521.00    
Dominic Smith (LF/1b) 578,826.00    
Andres Gimenez (ss/2b/3b) 563,500.00    
Armed Rosario (ss/OF) 608,780.00    
J. D. Davis (3b/OF) 592,463.00    
Jeff McNeil (2b/3b/OF) 616,676.00    
Michael Conforto 8,000,000.00    
Brandon Nimmo 2,175,000.00    
Victor Reyes 580,000.00    
Michael Taylor 3,325,000.00    

The 1966 Johnny Lewis Volpe Tumbler

Back in 1966, the Mets weren’t considered a good team but they did participate with a few other major league teams in a gas station plastic cup giveaway promotion. That year, the Mets joined the Cincinnati Reds, the Cleveland Indians, the Detroit Tigers, and the Los Angeles Dodgers in giving away these cups featuring the baseball sports portraits of Nicholas Volpe.

The other Mets featured in their team set are: Yogi Berra, Larry Bearnarth, Jack Fisher, Rob Gardner, Jim Hickman, Ron Hunt, Ed Kranepool, Tug McGraw, Roy McMillan, Dick Stuart, and Ron Swoboda.

In 1966, Lewis was coming off his best professional season in which he had hit 15 HRs, 45 RBIs, and batted .245. He played both right field and center field and was considered to have one of the best arms in the league. His throwing prowess led to his nickname, “The Gunner”. For Mets fans, he is often remembered for beating Jim Maloney and breaking up his extra-inning no-hitter.

Some people might look at Lewis’s career and say that he didn’t live up to his potential but he survived the tragic loss of his wife early in his career while with the Cardinals and later returned to them as a coach, scout, and minor league manager.

These cups aren’t too costly if you can find them. The most expensive being the Berra cup which could cost around $50-75 dollars in excellent condition. This Lewis cup could run between $10-25 dollars.

Here is toast to the memory of Johnny Lewis and the 1966 Mets!

Ray Knight threw a right – started a fight

On July 22, 1986, the New York Mets played a road game against the Cincinnati Reds.  Bobby Ojeda started against rookie Scott Terry.  The Red led 3-1 with two outs in the 9th inning when Dave Parker dropped what should have been the final out of the game. 

In the 10th inning, pinch-runner Eric Davis stood on 2nd base, after Pete Rose had hit a pinch-hit single.  Ray Knight was the Mets’ third baseman.  What happened next has become one of the team’s most memorable brawls. Here’s the YouTube video:

At 10 seconds in: Davis breaks to third while Eddie Milner strikes out. 

At 11 seconds in: Knight takes the throw from Gary Carter.  Davis emerges from the slide and faces the first base line and seems to declare himself safe.

At 12 seconds in: Knight looks to the umpire while the umpire calls Davis safe. Knight then looks down at Davis to see if he has taken his foot off the bag. Meanwhile, Davis also turns to the umpire to get confirmation of the call and possibly elbows Knight in the process. Then Knight begins to lean over Davis possibly to take advantage of any unintentional lifting of the foot.

At 13 seconds in: Knight continues to lean into Davis while the umpire is still signaling the safe call.  Davis looks back to see what Knight is doing.  Davis then begins to lose his balance and Knight looks to the umpire to see if he can get an “out” call.

At 14 seconds in:  Davis faces Knight and pushes him back.  The umpire tries to intercede.  Davis and Knight fully square off against each other.  Eye-to-Eye.

At 15 seconds in: Davis forces Knight backwards off the base.  Knight then launches a right cross into Davis’s face while the umpire hold Davis around the waist.  Davis gets spun to the right by the force of the punch.

At 16 seconds in: Knight prepares to continue the fight while Davis tires to regain his balance (he is still being held by the umpire).

At 17 seconds in: Davis does a complete 360 degree turn around the umpire while Knight takes a step back.  Other club members begin to join the fray.

The chaos continued for another two minutes.  Another serious fight ensued with Kevin Mitchell taking on more Reds.  Four ejections from the game followed: Knight, Davis, Mitchell, Mario Soto, and Reds coach, Billy DeMars.  Mets manager, Davey Johnson protested the game because the Mets lost two position players while the Red lost only two.  

Carter took over at third base for Knight.  Ed Hearn went behind the plate. Jesse Orosco then took over in right field to replace Mitchell.   Orosco and Roger McDowell then swapped spots with each other until Howard Johnson won the game with a three-run home run in the 14th inning

George Foster left left field

The 1986 team is now a cherished memory among New York Met fans.  Many players on that roster still rank high on any all-time favorite Mets list.  There was one player who was released though who caused some controversy prior to his departure.
That player was none other than George Foster; he wore number 15 and played left field.  By late July though, he was left out.
Foster came to the team with much ballyhoo at the start of the 1982 season.  Flyers went out; he was featured on the cover of the yearbook that season (along with George Bamberger).  He came to the Mets after starring for the Cincinnati Reds.  
He didn’t hit a ton that year (13 HRs, 70 RBIs, and a .247 batting average).  But the next year, in 1983, Foster’s performance improved (28 HRs, 90 RBIs, and a .241 batting average). He was likewise productive in both 1984 and 1985 but he was never the monster force the Mets thought they had acquired.
In 1986, his performance and playing time continued to diminish and by late July, he was a part-time player.  The Mets were winning and their team was solid.  They didn’t need Foster to contribute offensively; they had other players who were performing. 
Then in early August, while the Mets were out-of-town on a road trip, the news broke that Foster was being released.  Prior to his release, Foster had told a newspaper:
“I’m not saying it’s a racial thing. But that seems to be the case in sports these days. When a ball club can, they replace a George Foster or a Mookie Wilson with a more popular white player.
“I think the Mets would rather promote a Gary Carter or a Keith Hernandez to the fans so parents who want to can point to them as role models for their children, rather than a Darryl Strawberry or a Dwight Gooden or a George Foster.”
At a subsequent team meeting, Foster told his teammates that his remarks were being taken out of context.  Davey Johnson, though, was uncomfortable with Foster keeping his spot on the roster and had already replaced him as a starter with rookie, Kevin Mitchell. Then, Frank Cashen announced he had placed Foster on waivers. 
Foster later clarified his remarks, saying:
“I never said race had anything to do with who plays – me or Dykstra or Mazzilli or Mitchell,” he said. “I even prefaced my remarks by saying I didn’t want it to be racial. How could it be construed as such when Kevin Mitchell isn’t white?”
“I was talking from a business standpoint about promoting players, marketing players. You can take it from a business or economic standpoint: What product will sell to the public? What section of people will it attract to the ballpark?”
For his part, Johnson explained his actions as follows:
“Normally, I wouldn’t comment on something a player is quoted as saying,” Johnson said. “But this is an affront to me. He was alluding to my integrity as a baseball manager. I cannot have anybody on the club who questions my motives.”
Johnson continued, “George is a fine man, a good man, and he’s been a great ballplayer. But it hurts me. He put me into a corner. 
The only thing I can think of is he’s had a great career and I’ve had the unfortunate task of sitting him down near the end of his career.
“In the four years he’s been here, he’s been streaky,” Johnson added. “This year, with the emergence of Kevin Mitchell,
 I couldn’t afford the luxury of waiting for George. My job is to put the best nine players out there.”
Bill Robinson, the team’s first base coach, said:
“I’m black, and I’m sensitive to racial issues, if I thought there was any racial overtone to anything on this club, I’d quit or I’d strongly object. I don’t think this will offend the black players. Dwight Gooden is one of the country’s most popular athletes. So is Darryl Strawberry, and Mookie Wilson is a favorite with the public.”
Some of Foster’s teammates spoke out on Foster’s behalf.   Strawberry said:
“I’m disappointed the way the organization handled it. A guy who had a career like that deserved to wait till the end of
the season. Who knows, maybe I’m next.”
Wilson said:
“I would have to say he was misquoted. George was one of the great ones.”
In the end, Foster would sign with the Chicago White Sox and go onto play a handful of games for them before being released again. Foster’s performance and demeanor never earned him the same level of appreciation individually that the 1986 team earned as a whole. Despite that, the team voted to award Foster a World Series ring and a three-quarters share of the championship money.  Foster was also on hand for the final game at Shea Stadium in 2008. 

Mets Song of the Month: ‘September 9th, 1969’

One of the early iconic moments in Mets history is the “Black Cat Game” which occurred on September 9, 1969.  The Cubs came to New York for a two-game series holding a 2 ½ game lead over the Mets.  The Mets won the first game to cut the lead to 1 ½ games.  Game two pitted the aces of the two teams against each other:  Ferguson Jenkins vs. Tom Seaver.  The Mets took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first.  The score stayed that way until the top of the fourth inning.  Glenn Beckert was on second base with a double and Billy Williams was at the plate.  At that point, a black cat emerged from underneath the stands behind home plate and made a circle around the Cubs’ on-deck batter, Ron Santo.  The cat stopped, looked at Cubs manager Leo Durocher, and then disappeared again below the stands.  The Cubs did score a run when Santo singled in Beckert but the Mets went on to win the game. Here’s the full band version of the song:

The Lyrics:

September 9th, 1969.
Black Cat takes a walk along the third base line.
September 9th, 1969.

Hey Mr. Black Cat with your New York shoes
Them players you’re spookin’ got them Chicago blues.
Hey Mr. Black Cat which side you gonna choose?
All them out-of-towners got them North Side blues.

You got your clubs in your back pocket
Got some diamonds in your hands.
Run your little circle
Then disappear beneath the stands.
Hey Mr. Black Cat.  Hey man, I’m telling you.
All them out-of-towners got them North Side blues.

On-Deck circle
Ron Santo got his bat.
He don’t want to see
No more Mr. New York cat.
Hey Mr. Santo
Do you hear that hometown noise?
Time to turn it over
To them New York boys.

Here’s the solo version:

Mets Song of the Month: ‘There’s Dirt on old Fifteen’

This is another song that started in one spot and ended in another.  The attempt was to write a song about a Met player that nobody would ever think of focusing on.  It started with Barry Lyons but got nowhere fast.  While doing work on the Lyons song, the focus shifted to one of the all-time great Mets players, Jerry Grote.  A personal favorite memory of Grote was in 1973, when the Mets were in a pennant race and in a game, some kid interfered with Grote from making a foul catch and Grote gave the kid grief over it.  The Mets ended up losing that game because in the newspapers, the next day, that kid was quoted as saying, “If the Mets have to lose, I hope its by more than one game.”

The Lyrics:

Grote sits behind the plate
Sets up low and mean.
Crouched down like some alley cat
There’s dirt on old’15.

When Jerry called for number one
You’d better hurl your heater high.
Just hold that runner on first base
And look Jerry in the eye.

The San Antonio wind
It blew him in.
And he brought his right hand gun.
He never had too much to say
Until the game was won.

If he didn’t like the way a pitch was called
He’d let that fact be known.
And if some strikes weren’t called his way
He might miss one that got thrown.
(Make the Umpire Moan)

We picked him up from the Colt 45s
And he never did go back.
Made them runners crawl
With his Texas drawl
Hands big as ammo packs.

Mets Song of the Month: ‘Willie Kneeling’

The Narrative:  This one is half-based on the famous 1973 World Series photograph of Willie Mays and half-based on my experience at a Shea Stadium Camera Day.   It sort of ties in what a kid or a fan feels during a game, what a player feels at the end of a season or a career, and what fans feel if their team doesn’t come out on top.  There is just one version of this song.

Willie Kneeling

Camera Day
Kodak in hand.
Twelve year old kid
In the right field stands.
Willie walks by
Out there at Shea.
So close to greatness
But so far away.

Koosman’s got
His hat pushed back.
Milner’s there
Swinging a bat.
He hears Jane Jarvis
Play her notes.
And everything
That the Tin Pan wrote.

Day moves along
The crowd departs.
Mets make the playoffs
World Series starts.

But Buddy boy
Flies too high to the base.
Homeplate Ump
Seals his fate.
Willie’s there
Down on his knees.
He asks old Augie,
“Make the safe call, please.”

Mets lose in seven
To the Oakland A’s.
So close to greatness
But so far away.

‘Strike Zone; Scoreboard Lights’

When Brian was looking for 2020 monthly contributors, I suggested a monthly item in the form of a song since that fits in with what I’ve been doing over the past couple of years.  This first song emanated from an Art Shamsky trip to go see Tom Seaver.  There were some photographs taken at a local restaurant out by Tom Seaver’s vineyards.  Shamsky and Seaver were joined by Ron Swoboda, Bud Harrelson, and Jerry Koosman.

The photograph is just a bunch of old friends sitting around but of course there is some sadness behind the smiles.  The health conditions of both Seaver and Harrelson underscore the fleeting time of athletes and their relationships to each other, their fans, and their on-going legacy.

There are two versions of the song.  One is just me.  The other is me with the whole group.

The Lyrics:

Is this the last time we’ll be together?
Is this the last time we’ll see old friends?
String some moments still together;
We may not get another chance again.

Five of us laughing at the old times.
The crazy things some of us would do.
Teary Eyes over those not with us.
How did all of us become just a few?

Grab another sip of wine now.
Tell another joke -maybe two.
Rosin bags and the pine tar
I remember; do you?

Twilight – young girl sings the anthem
Lined up – hands upon our hearts
Later champagne and cigarettes.
And time to replay one another’s parts.

Sometimes tears are memories
And sometimes memories are tears.
Laughter frames the photos that I’ve kept with me
And all of you have helped to frame my years.

Late lunches – early dinners
Watch that old sun giving way to night
It’s getting dark and I know you must be going
Dream about the strike zone and scoreboard lights.

Listen here:

The Valeros: