Thursday, March 29, 2007

Billy Wagner: a lesson for A-rod

If A-Rod ever gets bored of looking at himself in the mirror and trying to figure out which major league uniform would look best on him, he should give Billy Wagner a call- the guy is running some kind of clinic on how to be an extremely expensive, yet slightly underperforming, free agent acquisition, and still getting everyone to like you.

Billy Wagner? Underperforming? Well, mainly if you consider the fact that the guy makes more money than Mariano Rivera, and Mariano Rivera he is NOT. The way that you can tell this, is that when Rivera takes the mound, it is like Lee Van Cleef or Clint Eastwood at the end of a spaghetti Western- he projects nothing but danger and confidence; if he were still alive, the Yankees should get Sergio Leone to shoot his high-light real. When Wagner takes the mound late in games, my first instinct is to make sure that I’m not that far away from a full beer, in case he leaves me with a lot of problems to drink away- and while, during the regular season, the terror-beer was generally transformed into a celebration-beer by the end of the inning, Wagner always made it interesting, particularly in the post season when he put up a 9.53 ERA and took a loss.

In addition to scaring the shit out of Mets fans in late innings, Wagner spent some of the post-season dictating an EXCLUSIVE guest column for the New York Post to someone named “Burton Rocks.” It had very little insight into the game, but a lot of stuff like “Am I exited to be in New York on a winner? Does a one legged duck swim in circles?” It was not the paradigm of player-journalism excellence that was provided by Cliff Floyd’s blog, but it was a perfectly decent thing to kill a couple minutes of the agonizing periods when they weren’t playing baseball.

Anyway, Billy and Burton seem to have hit it off, because Wagner is getting more than his share of coverage in the Post during the pre-season, most notably in an article called “Cheats Lurk Everywhere,” in which Kevin Kernan talks to Wagner about the return of Guillermo Mota. Wagner told Kernan that cheating, looking for an edge, was a universal and eternal aspect of the game; previous iterations had included spit-balls, pine-tar, and corked bats- steroids were just the current form. Wagner said that you only had to say you were sorry if you got caught, and Kernan speculated that this was the most honest thing a ball player had ever said.

Wagner comes out of the article looking great. He claims that he is clean: “If I took steroids, I'd be a hell of a lot better. I know it. And that's why I don't have to take it. When they say, 'You know you are one of the top three closers in the game,' I don't have to take that [bleep- shit, presumably].” He is identified as a family man, and a fount of both wit and wisdom; he is eager and able to face the challenges of the big city, but still grounded enough in his humble roots that he has not lost sight of the swimming habits of one legged ducks.

The pro-Wagner attitude is pretty universal. The Post thinks that this year he will be better than he was in 2006, but no one seems to think that there is any danger of him being significantly worse- and to me this seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to worry about. The one thing that the Mets cannot stand, given the state of their bullpen, is their closer coming up unreliable- and I don’t think, particularly in the post-season, that serious unreliability is ever completely out of the picture where Wagner is concerned.

There is a huge lesson in how Wagner talks to the media, particularly in whatever relationship he has with the Post. Close games are lost by whoever you can write the best piece blaming, and by being a petulant dope, A-rod makes himself extremely blamable. By giving them a couple of columns in Spring, Wagner has saved himself a lot of pictures and puns on the back page after blown saves in the Summer. Part of it, of course, is that the urge to question Wagner can never be that strong for Mets fans: he ended the nightmare that was Braden Looper. But Wagner also projects the perfect mixture of folksy charm, positive attitude and complete confidence in his own ability to make sports writers hesitate before saying that the game was lost by the really expensive guy who gave up the game winning hit.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


The New York Post just published a supplement about the 2007 season which was filled with stuff like this: “The summer is spent with anticipation and setbacks mixing for Pedro Martinez… he is never close to himself and is never much of a factor,” and “Will have a bigger year than expected: Billy Wagner… look for Wagner’s second season in New York to be superior to his first.” Anyway, that inspired me to make some predictions of my own:

1) Pedro Martinez will come back and be FREAKING AWSOME
That thing that they say happens where you have surgery, do rehab, and the constant working out makes you a better pitcher, that’s going to happen with Pedro. He will make the opposing batters look like chumps. Also, Oliver Perez will flat out rock.

2) ALL the relievers will return from injury/suspension and kick ass
Mota, Sanchez, even that guy Padilla who I’m not really sure where he came from, are all going to come up big time when they rejoin the club. Joe Smith will emerge as being insanely dominant, and after a brief stint in the minors, Burgos will find some control and destroy opposing hitters, completely destroy them.

3) The Mets will suffer their biggest setback of the season when Jose Reyes misses ten games in mid-August after ascending in a ray of light to a UFO hovering over Shea during an inside-the-park home run. He will return ten days latter with a strange trophy made out of an element that is not on the periodic table. Close observers on the team will notice that after this his feet never really touch the ground; instead he always hovers a quarter of an inch above it.

Ty Cobb Should be on the $20

I’m deviating from my Mets theme because this is something that I feel very strongly about. The most logical objection to this, that Ty Cobb was a terrible racist as well as an all around son of a bitch, is actually half the reason to go through with it: he would be replacing Andrew Jackson. In addition to killing people in duels, Jackson oversaw the Trail of Tears, one of the absolute low point of the White Man’s treatment of the American Indian- I am kind of surprised that Native American groups have never tried to get him replaced. If my plan were to succeed, there would only be two prominent slave owners honored on US banknotes.

The records that Cobb set, his determination, the grittiness of his play are all a powerful testament to man’s will to achieve and the individual’s capacity for greatness- and the capacity of this greatness to eclipse the fact that he was a man who could almost be accurately described as “evil.” He was completely relentless in his desire for excellence: he would play mind games with his friends over the batting title and he sharpened his spikes and always slid feet first. Looking at Cobb’s career statistics produces a sort of awe that there is no logical reason to feel for a long dead athlete who played before my grandparents were born.

In addition to holding the all-time record for career batting average, Cobb once led the league in homers without ever hitting a ball out of the park. Only people like Charlie Parker could claim to be that good at what they do.

Cobb excelled equally at another American national pastime- making money. He started a proud tradition and was the first athlete to endorse the Coca-Cola Company.

One thing, however, stands out above all else about Ty Cobb and makes him more worthy than any other American to be honored on our currency. When he checked into the hospital for the last time, Ty Cobb brought with him a million dollars in bonds and a Luger. As much as any other incident, this seems to illustrate perfectly the impotence and folly of the values of American capitalism when taken to their extreme in the face of eternity.

We should probably think about that every time that we buy something

Thursday, March 22, 2007

"Sam from Queens"

I started a post about Carlos Delgado and politics, but I think that the last post was pretty good, so I’m just gonna lay some “Sam from Queens” type thoughts (uninformed, yet adamant, opinions on how the club should be run) on you, just so no one develops too high of a standard. Here goes:

The HELL David Wright should bat second. Probably, Willie Randolph had better things to do in the off-season (family or some crap), so he can be forgiven for not having gone to on a regular basis to see if there were any trade rumors to take his mind off of the deadening madness that is life- however, if he had, he would have been regularly reminded that Paul Lo Duca led the team in batting average (Pedro Feliciano led it in ERA). The main thing about the Mets number 2 hitter is not so much their production, as how good a job they do of giving Jose Reyes a chance to steal- everyone knows this. David Wright is an RBI guy who can hit for power; Lo Duca is a contact hitter, generally one of the best in the game, who rarely strikes out. Part of why Lo Duca excelled last season was his patience at the plate, his willingness to take pitches, to go to 0-2, in order to give Reyes as many opportunities to swipe a bag as possible. Essentially, this involves balancing TWO tasks at the same time (hitting the ball and looking after Reyes) - this is not something that I imagine Wright being capable off. I see Wright as a simple man, with simple tastes, whose brain has about enough room for one concept at any given moment- when that concept is “hit the ball hard” things seem to work out. Last season Lo Duca was able to successfully juggle a gambling problem, a messy divorce, and hit .318. A lot of the criticism about Lo Duca is that he is not fast enough to be an ideal number 2 hitter, and this is clearly true. However, given the power behind him in the line-up (Beltran, Delgado, and Wright) speed is less important for him than it would be for other number 2 hitters. Honestly, if they are that keen on having someone faster than Lo Duca hit second, I think the clear choice is actually Beltran. Beltran can hit for average and has good speed, and, I think most importantly, probably has the maturity and concentration to bat with Reyes on first, at least more successfully than David Wright. If you did that, you could put Wright in the number 3 spot, and bury Lo Duca (and his team leading batting average) somewhere in the dole drums at the end of the line-up with Green, Valentine and the pitcher.

Oh, and here’s a solution for the outfield problem: take Shawn Green out back of the stadium and shoot him. Promote Lastings Mildedge to take his job. Use Chavez extremely liberally, either in place of Alou, or Mildege, or as a late defensive replacement. Any slack could be taken up by the couple of back up outfielders that they are carrying anyway.

Willie Randolph: Thanks Sam, those are both extremely valid suggestions, really I don’t know why we don’t listen to the advice of embittered sub-sub-librarians more often.

Monday, March 19, 2007

One thing that I don’t think anyone has emphasized enough, is that it is really too bad- although unavoidable- that Cliff Floyd isn’t playing for the Mets this year. The most sincere expressions of regret from the club have come from Billy Wagner’s children, whose favorite Met was Floyd, according to their father. Even David Wright, Floyd’s former bagman and protégé, described the news of Floyd’s release as “bittersweet,” whatever regret he might have felt tempered by his commitment to the club’s mission and message, and probably the awareness that with Moises Alou, instead of Floyd, batting behind him he would get more pitches to hit.

It would, of course, be ridiculous to argue that Floyd’s contributions to the 2006 campaign were particularly invaluable, since he spent most of the season on the disabled list, and was less than phenomenal most of the time when he played, but there are other things to miss about Floyd. He managed, for one thing, to convey a sense of veteran wisdom, a sage yet slightly irreverent club house presence- at least to people who have never met a baseball player. He took upon himself the duty of making rookies carry his bags; he made wagers with Wright, betting against the third-baseman’s performance, and seems not to have made good on them; more to the point, he managed to always speak of Wright in a paternalistic and condescending manner, even as Wright’s numbers and potential dwarfed his own. It was somehow deeply gratifying to hear the announcers identify him as one of the great gentlemen of baseball, gamely playing through injuries, and maintaining a focus on sportsmanship and professionalism. In a rare moment of something akin to wisdom, a call-in host pointed out that while Floyd’s contributions to the winning Mets of ’06 were not impressive, on previous year’s teams he had been one of the few Mets whose performance would regularly reward a trip out to Shea. The blog that he kept about the post-season ( is one of the most charming combinations of heart, gentle eccentricity, and awkwardness with the written form of the English language that I have encountered.

Floyd has been in the news lately for saying that Randolph had half a mind to have him bunt when he was brought in to pinch hit in game 7 of the NLCS (ninth inning, Mets down by two, tying runs on base); Randolph’s reaction to this consisting of contempt, skepticism that Floyd knew what he was talking about, and a suggestion that the reporters go back to bothering the Yankees. I have to say that I think the decision to bring in Floyd to pinch hit sucked, but probably not for reasons that ever occurred to Randolph. I, however, knew that Floyd would not get a hit, simply because if he had, it would have been an event so exquisitely beautiful that it would have been thoroughly out of keeping with my experience of living in a fallen world. That at bat was one of those moments in life that, even while it is happening, one cannot help but imagine narrating to your grandchildren: “and then, sonny, after the astoundingly unreliable Oliver Perez managed six miraculous innings of one-run ball, and Endy Chavez made the greatest catch in post-season history, the Mets won the game on a pinch-hit from chronically injured fan-favorite Cliff Floyd… I don’t care what you say, whippersnapper, the game was better before they replaced all the players with robots.”

But things that great simply do not happen, and Floyd went hitless and then went to the Cubs, and while this is probably good news for the middle of the Mets lineup, I have to side with the younger Wagners in wishing that Floyd was still around. Along with his many other accomplishments and gifts, Cliff Floyd is a name that would have succeeded at many worthy vocations, from hard boiled private eye to jazz musician (“On bass we have Cliff Floyd” sounds pretty good in any context) but I am glad that he gave it to baseball.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Pedro Thoughts

Pedro Martinez has was one of my favorite ball players, even in his late Red Sox days, and by favorite I mean I knew who he was and vaguely like him, which was something that I could say of barely any Mets at a time when I did not follow baseball if I could avoid it; and this was only made difficult in the post season by an obsessed room-mate.
What I liked about Pedro then was the depressed intensity that he exuded on the mound; his Eeyor-like face, and the bitter concentration that he seemed to pour into every pitch. As someone who was essentially a non-fan, the drama of his persona, coupled with the mixtures of despair, passion, and desire that could be clearly read into his expressions and body language was one of the few avenues that I found open into the game. Perhaps more than any of the other Red Sox, Pedro Martinez really looked like a man playing under a curse.
I only liked him more as a Met in 2005, and while it was partially because he was playing for my favorite team, it was also because his persona seemed to switch from perhaps the most conspicuously sad ball player in the game, to someone who was frequently exuberantly happy. It seemed very much that the experience of winning the World Series, or perhaps more importantly, beating the Yankees, had given him a capacity for personal irony and an ability to take things lightly that he had lacked- he could not have been like that before, and retained the dark sense of drama that seemed to define him as a Red Sock.
The clearest illustration of this came not on the mound, but at the plate. In the ’04 World Series, I made a point of watching the game that he pitched in the Cardinal’s park, because I wanted to see him bat and he did not let me down: he was visibly confused and angry at having to be on the receiving end- he didn’t swing at all, and his disappointment when one at bat ended with him drawing a walk was far greater than when he was called out on strikes. As a Met and a National leaguer, however, he seemed to enjoy his time at the plate- he talked exuberantly with reporters when he recorded his first hit and joked about his desire to hit a home run. One of my favorite memories of the ’06 season came late in one of the extra innings marathons that the team played early in the season, when Pedro and Glavine stood in the dugout waving bats, asking to be brought in to pinch hit.
Of course, this is one of a fairly small number of good Pedro memories that I have from the ’06 season; injuries quickly limited his playing time, and when he did play he was frequently fairly ineffective, getting mercilessly beaten a couple of times. On other teams, and certainly on any other Mets team in recent memory, the injury, re-injury, and injury related mediocrity of a player of Pedro’s caliber, price-tag, and expectations would have dominated the coverage of the team- but, weather it was the frequently phenomenal offensive performances, the tribulations of various starters that they brought in to try and fill his spot, or the Duaner Sanchez saga, there was too much else going on with the 2006 Mets for the Pedro story to really command anyone’s full attention. Furthermore, the team’s colossal lead in the standings, and their continued winning regardless of what Martinez did, removed all sense of urgency from Pedro-related speculation.
On some level, I feel that the indifference that has been forming in the minds of Pedro’s fans and, presumably to some extent, teammates will be as significant a factor in his eventual return as any of the physical aspects of the rehabilitation. With some ball players, the A-rods and Carlos Beltrans, the experience of leaving the team for nearly a year and finding that, in his absence, the infielders could still throw to first and a plague of locusts had failed to descend on the stadium, would be amazingly positive. Pedro, however, seems to have incorporated being the center of attention into both his personality and his game (or more accurately both because with a player like Pedro drawing a line between the two is probably impossible); in fact, he reminds me a lot of the Chicago Bull’s Ben Wallace, one of my other favorite athletes. Like Pedro, Wallace is a ‘special’ player, whose incredible physical talents are almost overshadowed by their passion and competitiveness. When Big Ben was on the Pistons, he was the face of the franchise and his gritty defensive play was the team’s calling card; last year when they brought in coach Flip Saunders, the style of play became more offensive and the attention shifted slightly away from Wallace. At one point, Wallace responded to this by showing up in ridiculously loud eye goggles, which he said that he needed for a clearly fictional eye injury, and only wore for about twelve minutes before getting tired of them. Still, everyone looked at him, and he drew a couple of puff pieces in the local papers, and all was right with the world. Also, he signed with the rival Bulls for slightly more money in the off season.
I thought that a similar set of feelings, the desire to regain the attention of the crowd and a sense of confusion about what to do in its absence, was visible in Pedro when the Mets clinched the NL East. Pedro was one of the first people out of the dugout when they rushed the field; I think he used his connections to be the first person given one of the “NL East Champions” shirts, which he proudly displayed; he sprayed more than his share of champagne. Still he always seemed to be standing a little bit apart from his teammates, and all the reporters were more interested in talking with David Wright and Jose Reyes.
When Pedro returns, his emotional and mental state will be a significant factor in what he is able to do for the team, along with the physical aspects of his rehabilitation. I actually have my reasons for thinking that things will work for the best, but this post has gone on quite long enough as it is.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

baseball as compared to other sports

Professional sports in general offer a vaguely narcotic form of escape from the drudgery of modern existence, but the form that the particular escape takes varies somewhat from sport to sport. Following basketball, for example, seems a little bit like binge drinking in a trendy bar, the prospect of some incredible encounter dangled before your eyes, and drinks designed with presentation in mind as much as anything else.
Following baseball, on the other hand, is more like going home every night and nursing three martinis worth of cheap gin over a couple of hours; while you are doing it there is a general desire for it to be over, followed by a somewhat stronger desire for more, once it finally ends.
This difference, of course, has a lot to do with how baseball is played compared to other sports; and particularly the criticism leveled against the sport by non-fans, that the sport is boring and that the players are never required to display amazing athleticism, that they generally just stand there instead of running constantly- their harshest critics will go as far as to imply that this means that baseball players are lazy and, in some instances, fat. These people ignore the fact that hitting a professionally pitched baseball is generally agreed to be the single hardest thing to do in sports- and pitching professionally is probably not easy either- but both of these tasks appear somehow less impressive than throwing down a dunk since you don’t have to be air-born and are not significantly hampered at either of them by having a beer gut.
The proof of this, though, that the athleticism required for baseball in general is significantly less than the athleticism required for other sports is the fact that baseball teams play almost every day, whereas basketball teams play not quite every other day, and football is played once a week. Thus, the while the baseball fan has to sit through many innings of groundballs and pop-outs before seeing a spectacular catch, stolen base, or long ball, they are, during the summer, able to get their fix every day. In fact, the true baseball fan is drawn not so much to the spectacular play, but to the gentle music of the game, the steady rhythm of balls and strikes, and the terrapin race in the standing taking place over the course of the whole long summer.
…damn, I can hardly wait for it.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

why a mets blog?

Over the winter I decided that I was going to start a Mets blog, which was a kind of a weird thing for me to resolve on, since I generally hate the internet, and until recently was ambivalent about sports. But the Mets have always had a special place for me and they were just huge winners in the re-distribution that took place in my psychic economy when I graduated from school and set about the task of working in modern society and not losing my mind.

Recently, a friend broke off on a tangent from a pointless, repetitive, and boring conversation that we were having about the NBA, to ask me why it was that the athletic competitions between people that we did not know personally, and institutions that we had no logical reason to be invested in, took so much of our time and energy. I told him that it sports offered one of the only breaks from the degrading monotony of industrialized society; one of the few breaks from the crushing weight of the mundane. I find something about spending eight hours a day doing a job that I don’t really care for, that sends me just running into the world of professional sports; I think this is a lot because in life in general things are perpetually on going, there is never a resolution to anything, ever, or even an ability to say, with complete accuracy and confidence, what just happened. Sports provide us with a time frame during which identifiable events will take place. Yesterday, for example, I brought several minor problems to my boss, who was able to give me indifferent amounts of advice, leaving me in only slightly less confusion and ambiguity, basically to hope that things would somehow resolve themselves of their own accord, or that at least no one would notice if they didn’t; also the Mets lost 1-2 to the Indians. Of those two events, I find the latter much more comforting, even if I am disappointed in the outcome- the game happened when scheduled, after nine innings a result was obtained, and the fans were left to turn to the AM talk shows and start shrieking their deranged opinions.

I will, unfortunately, continue my observations about the relationship between sports and the deadening effects of industrialized society in a future post, but I’ll end now on a topical note. Yesterday the post ran a piece with the headline “WRIGHT: I’d move over for A-rod.”, the substance of it was basically that someone asked David Wright if he would move over for A-rod, Wright said yes, and also expressed the somewhat eccentric opinion that A-rod was great. Whatever- its all several light years away from happening, which they mentioned somewhere in the latter paragraphs of article, which existed only to use famous names and take up column inches. I sincerely wish, though, that they would think, for like a second, before running hideously disturbing shit as headlines. Somewhere in Queens, there is an old man who has been following the Mets since the 1960s; his kids moved away long ago, and his wife is dead- the Mets are one of the few things that keep him going; in the moment that he read that headline, all those summers of ballpark franks took their revenge on his heart, and he sinks to the floor, not to be found until his neighbor notices the smell on Wednesday. But the tragedy isn’t that he died, it is that, mixed in with the memories of his life that flashed before his eyes in those final moments there is also a crystal clear vision of what he thinks is the future: the Met’s inglorious exit from the first round of the playoffs as A-rod lines into a double play with the tying run in scoring position- and then gives a press conference about how he had to take Delgado off his list of friends on Myspace.

You know what, New York Post, that old man was all of us: you guys are jerks.