Friday, August 14, 2009


One of my best friends and fellow Mets fans emailed me the other day, saying he was hoping that former Met Pedro Martinez would pitch well in his Phillies debut, but that he still hated the Phillies and hoped they'd lose.
I wrote my buddy back, saying the opposite, that I hoped Pedro would not only win, but pitch a perfect game if he could.
As it was, Pedro the once-Met -- who could've easily been a Met again this year, if General Manager Omar Minaya reached out and signed him for a relative pittance -- labored through five innings while his team scored 12 runs for him and earned his first victory of the season. I hope it will be the first of many "Ws" for the incomparable right-hander who brought excitement to Shea Stadium every time he took the ball there, from 2005 through last season.
And I couldn't care less if he's racking up wins for the Mets' supposed arch rival.
After all, doesn't a rivalry involve two teams actively competing for top billing? Because right now the Mets so far out of the playoff picture behind the National League East Division-leading Phillies -- and so many other teams ahead of them in both the division and wild card race -- their biggest rivals are the Washington Nationals, who the Mets must stave off to avoid a last-place finish.
A rivalry also involves teams trading wins and losses. This year, the Phillies have beaten the Mets like a drum, winning seven of the last eight meetings. While the Mets won the season series against the Phillies last year, in the end it amounted to nothing with the Mets missing the playoffs and the Phillies winning a World Series. In the Mets' doomed 2007 season, they had seven opportunities to beat the Phillies from mid-August until late September and the Mets failed to win any one of those games.
Pedro knows all about an intra-division rival dominating his own team. Back in September 2004 as a Red Sox ace, he conceded, after a loss to the hated Yankees, "I just tip my hat to them and call the Yankees my daddy."
What else can the Mets do at this point, concerning the Phillies?
Before the 2007 season, Phillies' shortstop Jimmy Rollins called his squad "the team to beat," despite having finished well behind the Mets in the standings the previous year. While the Mets were busy squawking about Rollins's boast and choking away a seven-game lead with 17 games left, Rollins put his team on his back and carried them to a division title, later earning National League Most Valuable Player honors for his efforts.
Before the 2008 season, after ace starter Johan Santana was added to the Mets fold, Carlos Beltran warned the Phillies that the Mets would be the team to beat. Then in September of that year, the Phillies took two of three games from the Mets in a crucial showdown at Shea, en route to a World Series Championship, while the Mets' season crumbled on the season's final day.
Before this season?
Phillies' starter Cole Hamels called the Mets "choke artists" on a radio show.
How can anyone now argue that statement?
For Phillie-hating Mets fans, it only adds insult to injury to now to see Pedro pitching for the enemy. But for the combined dollars Minaya paid disappointing and injured pitchers Tim Redding, Fernando Nieve, Jonathon Niese, Nelson Figueroa and Livan Hernandez this year, he could just as easily have signed Pedro.
Not that Pedro may lift the Phillies back into the World Series. But at least with Pedro as a Met this year, if nothing else, fans could fondly look back to his brief Mets glory days in 2005 and 2006.
And with him as a Phillie now, it's another reminder of who's the parent and who's the child in the ongoing Mets-Phillies relationship.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


If you can't stomach the idea of watching Corey Sullivan as the Mets' new leadoff man, Fernando Tatis in the three hole -- and playing second base -- and the un-Ruthian Daniel Murphy batting cleanup, then tune in to CMT at 9 p.m. tonight for the hilarious 1970s Mel Brooks comedic tour de farce, "Blazing Saddles."
Mets pitchers could surely learn how to get out of jams the way leading man Cleavon Little (above) did, with a gun pointed at him. The way Little disarms the situation is well worth watching. It's likely CMT will clean up all the language, including the nasty racial slurs -- whose inclusion by Brooks was meant to highlight the ignorance and idiocy of racism of the time. Gene Wilder shines as Little's sidekick, "The Cisco Kid," while veteran comic players Harvey Korman and Madeline Kahn are sensational in their roles.
Longtime sports fans will likely recognize former NFL great, Alex Karras, playing the intellectually challenged Mongo, who horses learn not to mess with.


If today's Adam Rubin story in the New York Daily News is accurate -- and based on his reporting throughout the last few years, there's every reason to believe it is -- about Mets General Manager Omar Minaya gradually being edged out of his post and Assistant General Manager John Ricco slowly being ushered in, Mets fans should rejoice.
Ricco already has accomplished the seemingly impossible -- made a positive impact on this year's club.
Ricco, Rubin reports -- not Minaya -- engineered the July swap with the Braves, of underperforming right fielder Ryan Church for Jeff Francouer. Francouer not only represents a considerable upgrade at that position, but also is several years younger than Church, has far more upside and has accomplished considerably more to this point in his career than Church and who, in about only a month with the club has exceeded Church's offensive numbers.
Ricco is the Mets payroll and rules compliance expert and according to Rubin's story, is not a talent evaluating whiz. If Ricco indeed replaces Minaya, his first order of business should be hiring the best Minor League coordinator he can possibly find.
Ricco will need that person to go about accomplishing something crucial Minaya hasn't -- building and maintaining a farm system that is the envy of every other Major League club.
Remember the good old days of the 1980s when then-GM Frank Cashen and has scouts constructed a pipeline and delivered such talented players as Darryl Strawberry, Doc Gooden, Roger McDowell, Lenny Dykstra, Kevin Mitchell, Rick Aguilera to Shea Stadium?
Compare that bumper crop to what's currently on the field for the Mets.
Compare it to the talent of the top-two farm teams -- the AA club in Binghamton and AAA squad in Buffalo, whose poor records have both mired in last place in their respective divisions.
And the fruit has been harvested from the farm system over the last two seasons that Minaya and chest-baring, teeth-gnashing, recently-fired Vice President of Player Development Tony Bernazard have built, has been more rotten than ripe.
Daniel Murphy, who after 131 Major League at-bats last season, both Minaya and Manager Jerry Manuel anointed before Spring Training as the everyday left-fielder, has been a bust in the outfield -- and more importantly, at the plate, with a .252 average. First-baseman/outfielder Nick Evans, after narrowly missing making the big club after Spring Training, was demoted from AAA to AA.
Pitcher Jonathon Niese has been uneven at best before succumbing last week to a season-ending hamstring injury, injury-prone outfielder Fernando Martinez -- himself on the shelf with a leg injury -- hasn't demonstrated an ability to hit Major League pitching and hard-throwing reliever Bobby Parnell hasn't yet developed into a dependable setup reliever.
Even more problematic, the Mets' highest ranking prospects, such as catcher Josh Thole, pitchers Brad Holt and Jennry Mejia, first-baseman Ike Davis and second-baseman Reese Havens are several years away from the show.
If anyone needs more evidence that stocking a farm system with talent is more important to a club's success than splashy free agent signings and blockbuster trades, watch this week's Dodgers-Giants series, in which those two teams are fighting for supremacy in the National League West.
The Dodgers have been bursting with homegrown talent for the last three years and has yielded such impact players as catcher Russell Martin, outfielders Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, first baseman James Loney and pitchers Chad Billingsley, Jonathan Broxton and Clayton Kershaw. Martin is a two-time All Star, while Billingsley and Broxton are 2009 All Stars, while Kemp narrowly missed being named as a reserve.
The Giants, meanwhile, boast 2008 Cy Young Award winner and 2009 All Star starting pitcher and current strikeouts and ERA leader Tim Lincecum, third-baseman Pablo Sandoval, whose .331 average is fifth-best in the Majors, solid first-baseman Travis Ishikawa, speedy outfielder Fred Lewis, promising second-baseman Eugenio Velez and pitcher Jonathan Sanchez, who authored this season's first no-hitter.
Given the Mets plunge into medicority this season and poor prospects next year, it's not at all surprising the team lags far behind the Dodgers and Giants in the won-lost record. Even in their own division, the current leaders and defending World Series champion Phillies developed pitcher Cole Hamels, have outfirlder John Mayberry Jr. and in fact are so prospect-rich, they could afford to ship four of their best to Cleveland to snag last year's American League Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee.
Minaya, incidentally, knows Lee quite well. Minaya traded him away in 2004, when he was general manager of the now-defunct Montreal Expos.
That deal didn't work out so well for Minaya, just as his leadership isn't really working out now for the Mets.
But exchanging Ricco for Minaya alone won't improve the Mets fortunes.
That begins where every effective general manager has made a serious investment -- down on the farm.

Monday, August 10, 2009


Looking for an alternative to tonight's Mets-Diamondbacks game -- a playing-out-the-string contest between two non-playoff bound teams?
The prospect of the Mets' Daniel Murphy hitting in the cleanup spot doesn't excite you?
Then tune in tonight at 10 p.m. on MLB Extra Innings or for the first game of a HUGE three-game series in San Francisco as the resurgent Giants do battle with their hated rivals, the National League Western Division-leading Dodgers.
While tonight's pitching match up of the Dodgers' Hiroki Kuroda against the Giants' Jonathan Sanchez may not be the marquee confrontation of, say, Chad Billingsley vs. Matt Cain, or Clayton Kershaw battling All Star starter, Tim Lincecum, it still promises to be quite the showdown.
San Francisco enters the series 5.5 games behind the Dodgers -- and more importantly, tied with the Colorado Rockies atop the NL Wild Card leader board. So far, the Giants have taken three of four games from the Dodgers and you can bet the San Francisco faithful, always an edgy bunch, will be in full voice. Just hearing the reception for the Dodgers' Manny Ramirez when he steps to the plate for the first time is enough reason to tune in.
And who knows? With all the tension involved in this rivalry, a health care town hall meeting may erupt between the lines!


So why was there no "alternative programming" note for yesterday's Mets-Padres game? Only because it was the lone Met worth watching these days, Johan Santana's turn in the rotation.
The ace, who yesterday improved his record to a league-best 13 wins, against eight losses, stifled the Padres on five hits and one earned run, over eight innings as the Mets won their first game in Petco Park since the ill-fated 2007 season. And in addition to registering those eight strong innings, he chipped in at the plate with a run-scoring single, to up his season's RBI total to four.
Now, ask yourself, if you watched yesterday's game, how did the Mets score their runs. You don't remember, do you? That's because with a team dead last in the Majors in home runs, as the Mets are, there's not a lot of bang and sizzle in their offense. After all, the decisive blow with the Mets at the plate was a dropped line drive by the Padres' second baseman, which resulted in two runs scoring. But from the sound of it, on WPIX-TV, Gary Cohen may as well have been calling Jose Reyes's game-tying single from NLDS Game 3 in the magical year of 2006, with his loud and enthusiastic announcement that the game was now, "Four-to-nothing, New York!"
Well, maybe you can't blame the guy.
It's been a long time since there's been much to get excited about with the Mets at the plate.
But on the mound, at least every fifth day, there's no denying the excitement of watching Santana practice his craft.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


Let's face it: the Mets became unwatchable
months ago. So as a duty to long-suffering fans, I'm providing alternative television and cinema options to watching Mets baseball on TV.
Last night's choice for me was a foreign film I rented from the library, "The Bothersome Man."
It's a 2007 Norwegian film that is marketed and distributed by a fantastic company called the Film Movement, which has an extensive catalog of independently-made, smart movies that challenge the imagination and intellect and through beautiful photography and intriguing stories, open a window to the part of the world in which they were filmed.
"The Bothersome Man" is director Jens Lien's mind-bending and award-winning tale of a man who awakens to find himself on an empty bus and dropped off in the middle of a stunning, barren landscape in the middle of nowhere -- in reality, it's Icleand's Sprengisandur National Desert Reserve -- and is then transported by a stranger to a new home, where he is told he has a new job at a well-to-do-firm.
While it's not quite "The Matrix," or even "Dark City" and not quite fully in the sci-fi vein, the film succeeds in seducing you deeper into the mysteries Andreas, the leading character, wrestles with: Why is everyone in the unnamed city where he finds himself so polite? Why does the attractive young woman he begins dating and later moves in with, not express any emotion when he announces to her he's leaving her for someone else? How does he manage to sever his index finger in a gruesome mishap and later shower to find the digit completely repaired without any traceable evidence of the severing? Why does food seem to be tasteless? Why is he suddenly fired from his job the day after he asks his supervisor why there don't seem to be any children in the city?
And, perhaps most mysterious, where are those strains of haunting classical music he hears from a stranger's basement really coming from?
I give this film, which captured Norway's Amanda Awards (equivalent to the American Oscars) for best director, best screenplay and best actor, an 8.5 on a scale of 1 to 10 -- and it sure beats watching the Mets turn a 7th inning 2-0 lead into a a 6-2 loss as they did last night, punctuated by a walkoff grand slam by a Padres' unheralded, slap-hitting rookie off All Star closer, Francisco Rodriguez.


For reasons known only to Mets' General Manager Omar Minaya, the team today announced it has acquired 29-year-old AAA outfielder Jason DuBois -- we know, you've never heard of him, either -- from the Chicago Cubs.
Unless this guy is the second coming of Roy Hobbs, the power-hitting protagonist from the seminal 1980s baseball film, "The Natural," this acquisition is baffling, considering the surplus of spare-part outfielders the Mets have collected since the end of the 2008 season.
DuBois now joins such luminaries as Jeremy Reed, Cory Sullivan, Nick Evans and Emil Brown who all have manned the Mets outfield this season as reserves.
What sizable haul the Mets surrendered to acquire DuBois is at this point unknown.


Recently, many Mets banded together to announce their solidarity in growing beards and keeping them until the team would reach the .500 mark.
But after Thursday night's loss in San Diego, right fielder Jeff Francouer, perhaps sensing that if he kept up the strange male beard bonding until season's end he might end up looking like the fourth member of the '80s cult rockers, ZZ Top (left), saw the light and broke out the razor.
"I might have had it until October," Francouer frankly told the New York Daily News.
Maybe now -- the day after yet another dismaying defeat, courtesy of a walkoff grand slam in San Diego off suddenly beatable closer, Francisco Rodriguez -- and sporting an embarrassing 51-58 record, other Mets will come to their collective senses and break out the shaving cream and electric and straight razors.
Otherwise, with the rate the Mets are plummeting in both the National League Eastern division and wild card standings, by September, they'd likely resemble the barnstorming Christian Israelite House of David teams of the 1920s and 1930s.
Could those teams be any worse than the current Mets?

The ridiculous exercise in communal hair growing underscores the futility of this lost Mets season. It's about as juvenile as that "Beavis and Butt-head" episode of yore, when the two laughable cartoon teenage buffoons cut hair from their heads, then clumsily glued the clumps to their faces in a pathetic attempt to "score" with chicks.
One can only hope Francouer's teammates will follow his example.
The notion that more follicles can get the Mets to the .500 mark -- or any kind of respectability -- this season is pure folly.