Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dangerous and Insane

Much as I have previously supported Jerry Manuel, and much as I do like some of the things that he has done, tonight, in his post game interview he exposed a line of thinking seems dangerous and insane-- to the extent that if someone were to advocate removing him, I could not say that they did not have a point.

Specifically, I have generally liked the way that Manuel has used the shiny new bullpen: his willingness to use K-Rod in non-save situations speaks of a flexibility of thinking, a capacity to look beyond the specious statistic of the Save, that speaks well of Manuel’s managerial abilities. On Tuesday, however, after Sean Green allowed two walks and the tieing run in the seventh, he opted to leave him in the game to give up a decisive three-run homer. The Mets never scored again, and suffered a depressing three-run loss.

When asked about the bullpen’s failure in the post-game interview, Manuel said that it did not bother him, because these types of meltdowns were inevitable in a bullpen (this is actually true, see Mets--2008, and also Mets—2007), as much as his club’s inability to score an extra three runs over the last three frames (this is also true—the Mets inability to score in the final innings has gotten to be depressing and weird). However, while both these statements are true, taken together, the way that Manuel put them, they yield a line of thinking that seems deranged at best, and sneaky and disingenuous if seen in a less sympathetic light.

Manuel should have taken Greene out—and even if he thought that his club should have come up with three more runs, there was no sane reason to put that theory into test, when he could have kept the lead or the tie by managing the bullpen more aggressively. There was no reason to test Sean Greene’s metal in a game which, while played in April, counts every bit as much as a game in September.

It is less flattering to think that Manuel deliberately chose to deflect attention from the aspect of the game that he screwed up (bullpen management) by bringing up the aspect of the game that everyone has been whining about in the papers—namely the Mets’ inability to hit in “clutch” situations. If Manuel had removed the struggling Sean Green, and then Green’s replacement had screwed up, Manuel would have been blamed for making a bad choice—if he left Greene in to give up a mere four runs, then the obvious culprit becomes the Mets’ well documented inability to hit late in games or with runners in scoring position. When you find your in-game decisions influenced by the ravings in The Post and the fear of blame, you are failing at one of the extremely few responsibilities of a manager. Yeah, the Mets could hit more, but Manuel also straight-up goofed with the bullpen—which is fine, as long as he admits it.

Speaking of dangerous and insane, Steve Somers is an escaped mental patient who is, for reasons thoroughly beyond my understanding, allowed to host a late-night sports talk show on WFAN—which I feel compelled to listen to, like a teenager playing with an infected pimple. His deal is that he calls out Latino players for not hustling, while doing something that is approximately a Jewish-psychiatrist/Jerry Seinfeld shtick. For the last week and a half he has been going on and on about Beltran’s lack of hustle as evidenced by the two (count ‘em—TWO) recent times when he failed to slide, when he probably should have slid (Beltran is hitting about .400—for as long as he does that, he can ride around the bases in a fucking unicycle), while extolling the hustling virtues of Daniel Murphy—I like Murphy as much as the next guy, but if he ever turns into a gold glove fielder hitting .400, let me know.

…also his show features a clip that is dialog from The Untouchables set to music from The Godfather—which is like incest or something. The quote is DeNiro going on about how “every man who gets to be a certain age should have enthusiasms” which is a great quote to use as a hook for a radio program about baseball, but the music just makes it…wrong.

J.J. Putz had his first real screw up as a Met today, giving up the tying and go-ahead runs in the eighth. I await the back page of tomorrow’s New York Post with interest.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

In case you were wondering, they go together terribly:

Sam: You know, I might be exactly the millionth fan to watch a Mets game while having gin and a bagel.
Sam’s Roommate: Could be.
Sam: You have to figure that, more than any other franchise, the Mets tend to draw the gin and bagel crowd.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Ranking starts by Mets pitching:

Since the Mets have only played seven games so far, I can still remember pretty much what happened in all of them. I thought it would be interesting to rank the starting pitching in each game, and see if there is anything to learn from doing this. If I am feeling really industrious, I might update this list as the season progresses:

1) 4/12: Johan Santana vs. Marlins: the Met’s ace went seven innings, striking out 13 for his highest K total as a Met, and walked only one. The Mets lost the game anyway, largely do to an even more dominant performance by Florida’s Josh Johnson and an error by Daniel Murphy that led to the Marlin’s only runs.

2) 4/11: Livan Hernandez vs. Marlins: “brother of El Duque” pitched 6 2/3 innings, before giving up two runs in the seventh, allowing six hits while striking out four and walking three. This is probably the high end of what the Mets can except from their fifth starter, who, at this point in his career, is regarded as durable and “not all that bad” rather than “good.”

3) 4/6: Johan Santana vs. Reds: Santana only went 5 2/3 innings, largely because he needed a large number of pitches to get through the first. In the sixth, he gave up two hits and a run scored on a sacrifice fly, but this just let the Mets show off their shiny new bullpen. Murphy, who Santana would go on to throw under the bus* for costing them the game in Santana’s next start, won this one for Johan with a home run and an RBI groundout.

4) 4/10: John Maine vs. Marlins: Maine gave up two runs in five innings, both on solo home runs. The home runs aren’t great, and neither is the shortness of the outing, which is only ranked this high because Maine pitches on a team with Mike Pelfrey and Oliver Perez.

5) 4/8: Pelfrey vs. Reds: Big Pelf got clobbered in the first inning, giving up four runs, but steadied after that, allowing no more runs to score over the next four innings. A lot of people are happy with Pelfrey for bearing down after a difficult first, but I prefer to blame him for a dreadful inning that the Mets were only able to overcome by scoring a lot of runs.

6) 4/9: Oliver Perez vs. Reds: Ollie pitched three scoreless innings; he also pitched another inning and a third where the Reds scored eight, giving up five hits and five walks. This was an abysmal outing on a couple of levels, and should probably be ranked dead last.

7) 4/13:Mike Pelfrey vs. Padres: For giving up a home run in the first ever at-bat in the Mets new park (something that had never happened in the entire recorded history of baseball), Pelf gets credit for the worst start of the season, at least until someone else does something shockingly dreadful: your move, Ollie. Peflrey only lasted five innings, and gave up five runs.

*If, as the New York Post seems to believe, “throw under the bus” means “tell a reporter about a thing that happened in a baseball game.”

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Nate the Great and Mike Piazza

Whenever someone like Johan Santana comes from one of the provinces to play in New York, there is always a slew of articles and discussions about weather they can handle the intense media scrutiny. This is almost always a big waste of time: the Johans of the world exist on a plane of greatness that is all their own and they are going to dominate-- no matter how many Joel Shermans ask them stupid questions while they are waiting to take a shower.

This is not to say that the New York media has no impact: there is a second class of sports hero who achieves its greatness through a combination of dominance and narrative—and in these instances, the media becomes, not merely the lens through which the greatness can be perceived, but the actual author of the greatness. This frequently leads to the uncouth spectacle of the media, like so many Frankensteins (the scientist, not the monster), feverishly trying to rip apart the creature into which they had just laboriously managed to breathe life. Mike Piazza, formerly of the Mets, and the Knicks’ Nate Robinson are both good examples of this phenomenon.

If he had put his mind to it, Johan Santana could probably have been a better catcher than Mike Piazza; I don’t think that there is any doubt that he could have been a better baller than Nate (I see him as a point guard, getting around 15 points a game, to go along with seven each of rebounds and assists)-- yet both of those players are or were far more important to the identity of their team than Santana is to the current Mets. Both were poorly regarded players (Piazza taken miserably late in the draft* because it was widely believed that he could never field or hit and Nate nearly a foot shorter than many of his fellow players) who went on, not only to have productive careers, but to lead their teams; both embraced their role as hero-of-the-everyman, winning over the fans of the franchise in ways that the Santanas, despite (or perhaps because of) their dominance, will never be able to.

Piazza, of course, was a superstar when he came to New York, but during his time here he inevitably found himself in the center of the team’s most intense situations: his feud with Clemmens, the rumors about his sexuality, his quest for the catcher’s home-run record, and his towering home-run in the first game played in New York after 9-11. Nate is more directly engaged with the fans than any of the other Knicks: he encourages the crowd to cheer during games, part of his free-throw routine includes a salute to acknowledge people that he met playing on-line video games, and he will occasionally take the microphone before games-- to either thank the fans or apologize for the state of the team.

The spotlights that the two men inhabited, however, existed before they arrived and will still exist, focused on other players, when the two of them have faded into obscurity. The narratives existed, and were only waiting for the people willing to act them out; the crowds existed and were only waiting for the appropriate object on which to focus their affection.

It is in light of this fact that I would point out that both men probably took steroids. Only one boy, in the entire high school, can be cast as Hamlet in the school play; and while many might crave the attention, the odds will always favor the ones who need it and are willing to either flirt with the drama teacher or poison their own fathers in order to get their Stanislavsky on.

Nate’s juicing, of course, is purely a matter of my speculation. Nate’s shortness, particularly on a court with other NBA players, is so obvious that it is easy to miss the fact that he is built like a sawed-off Schwarzenegger. Additionally, the frenzy that he gets into when he is either at his best or his worst is, at least, suspiciously similar to the thing called ‘roid rage. Finally, as someone “5’9” in sneakers” trying to have a career in the NBA he would have to be insane (or insaner) to not do everything in his power to give himself an advantage—such as bulking up with performance enhancing drugs.

Even though they have yet to accuse him of juicing, and thereby soiling the immaculate purity of the game of professional basketball, the New York media has never lacked reasons to abuse Nate Robinson. Rather than dwell on the delightful awesomeness of the crazy little man who carved himself a niche in the NBA, they have chosen to berate him for being macho and immature: vilifying him for his role in the 2006 brawl with the Nuggets and calling him out for taking too many impossible shots. I remember reading an article in The Post from the 06-07 season that contrasted the juvenile antics of Robinson with the steadiness and dedication of Eddy Curry and Stephon Marbury. As recently as last week, The Post ran an article about how Nate should be suspended for an altercation with New Orleans’ Chris Paul, in a rare game that Knicks actually won.

Paradoxically, while Nate fights too often, Piazza did not fight enough. Piazza (who was never openly accused of steroids during his playing time, either) was always called out for being too soft and seen as something of a prim Donna and a metro-sexual (at best) wuss. Again, the New York press opted not to worship the player that had come out of nowhere and achieved greatness, and instead set about diligently trying to dynamite the statue that they had helped to erect themselves.

It seems that one of the principals of late capitalism is that “we the people” are to be denied our folk heroes. Adulation is reserved for the LeBron James’ of the world, the god-like players with whom we manifestly have nothing in common. The players that we might relate to, the ones who acknowledge that they are living out all of our dreams, must always be reduced to tragic, incomplete figures: their flaws, either manufactured or magnified, taking up far more ink than the tale of how one of us conquered the world’s brightest stage.

*In thinking about what different animals the NBA and MLB are, it is worth noting that Nate was taken late in the first of only two rounds of the NBA draft, while Piazza was drafted in the 62nd round of the MLB draft, meaning that nearly two thousand players had been drafted ahead of him. Additionally, while the NBA draft covers the entire world, the MLB draft only applies to domestic players: Latin American players are generally signed by sweaty men with sunglasses, a radar-gun, and a brief-case full of cash. Of course, the two drafts are not actually analogous events: the equivalent to Piazza’s late drafting in Nate’s biography, was when he made his college basketball team as a walk-on, having gone to school on a football scholarship. When Nate was taken in the first round of the draft (fellow Knick David Lee was actually the very last pick of that first round) it was sort of like a 62nd round pick, on the strength of a good showing in the lower levels of the farm system, being called up to triple-A.