Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The proper way to vote for the Hall of Fame

The sports editor at a paper I used to work at had the great honor of being able to vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Each year he’d let be fondle the ballot, which was not especially impressive -- and neither was the ballot.

It was just a mundane list of names with little boxes next to them. I guess I expected parchment or gold leaf, something that indicated the gloriousness of the Hall of Fame.

I appreciated the gesture, and also appreciated that the editor took his vote very seriously. He had a system and did his research, which I’m certain is better than a majority of the people casting ballots. I didn’t always agree with his selections, but at least I could understand why he was voting for certain playes – as opposed to the doofs who say they vote only for guys who “feel like a Hall of Famer.”

Naturally, I have my own system and create a ballot, even though my vote doesn’t count.

This year we can consider: Harold Baines, Albert Belle, Dante Bichette, ,Bert Blyleven, Bobby Bonilla, Scott Brosius, Jay Buhner , Ken Caminiti, Jose Canseco, Dave Concepcion, Eric Davis, Andre Dawson, Tony Fernandez, Steve Garvey, Rich Gossage, Tony Gwynn, Orel Hershiser, Tommy John, Wally Joyner, Don Mattingly, Mark McGwire, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Paul O'Neill, Dave Parker, Jim Rice, Cal Ripken, Bret Saberhagen, Lee Smith, Alan Trammell, Devon White, Bobby Witt.

We can only vote for 10, so we must find ways to eliminate the unworthy. The first thing to do is eliminate any Yankees, because goodness knows there are already too many undeserving Yankees in the hall.

So cross off Brosius, Buhner, Canseco, Fernandez, Gossage, John, Mattingly, O’Neill and Smith.

Look, someone has to balance out Tom Verducci’s ballot, and you just know he’s pounding out a column to talk about O’Neill’s “intangibles” make him worthy.

I’m a little unsure about purging Gossage that quickly, but that leaves us with Baines, Belle, Bichette, Blyleven, Bonilla, Caminiti, Concepcion, Davis, Dawson, Garvey, Gwynn, Hershiser, Joyner, McGwire, Morris, Murphy, Parker, Rice, Ripken, Saberhagen, Trammell, White and Witt.

Next, we have to determine if any player crosses “The Rizzuto Line.” In other words, is the player worse than the very worst player in the Hall, whose very presence taints the other plaques and allows patrons to make an argument that their admission price should be lowered by a buck because the once-great Hall has been stained, which of course is what happened when the Veterans Committee voted in Yankee mascot/shortstop Phil Rizzuto.

This is a better year than most, and the Rizzuto rule only allows us to eliminate Dante Bichette and Bobby Witt. It’s tough to be worse than Rizzuto and last 10 years in the majors, the standard for being on the ballot.

Next, has a player ever tried to run over trick-or-treaters with his car? Oops, goodbye Albert Belle.

Did the candidate ever play for the Mets? Extra points for Bonilla, Saberhagen, and Hershisher. Tony Fernandez would have gotten a point for his 48 games with the Mets in 1993, but that’s not enough to overcome his 108 games with the Yankees.

But we’re not homers here. We have to consider the following rules: Did the player’s Mets tenure end in shame and banishment to the Rockies? Sorry, Sabes.

Then, did the player do anything prior to his Met tenure to keep the Mets from ever advancing to the World Series? Sorry, Orel, but we’re still upset about 1988.

Did the player ever confront Yankee hack Bob Klapischand threaten to “show him the Bronx?” Extra points for Bonilla!

But, did the player not follow through on his threat, and proceed to bring great shame to the team, especially by playing cards in the clubhouse during the closing moments of the infamous 1999 NLCS? That rule’s not going to come up a lot, but it does this year, eliminating Bobby Bo.

Now we’re down to: Baines, Blyleven, Caminiti, Concepcion, Davis, Dawson, Garvey, Gwynn, Joyner, McGwire, Morris, Murphy, Parker, Rice, Ripken, Trammell and White.

That’s 17, still too many. Now we move to the advanced criteria. Did a player ever receive an MVP award later proven to be undeserving because of steroid use? That eliminates Caminiti, but not McGwire, who never won an MVP.

Is a player better than Rizzuto, but not as good as Tony Perez, who many consider a borderline member of the Hall? That’s tough, forcing us to eliminate Concepcion and Eric Davis – with regrets – Garvey (with the obligatory “once thought to be a lock for the Hall” line), Joyner and Devon White.

Baines’ numbers are very similar to those of Perez, and his baseball-reference.com comparables are all either in the Hall – Al Kaline, Billy Williams – or fall just shy, like Rusty Staub.

Now we have: Baines, Blyleven, Dawson, Gwynn, McGwire, Morris, Murphy, Parker, Rice, Ripken, Trammell.

That’s 11. Someone has to go, and I’m starting to feel guilty about tossing Gossage. I’ll pick Morris, who had some nice moments but falls just shy.

There you go!

Writers who don’t look at stats tend not to vote for Blyleven, Parker and Trammell, and Dale Murphy and Rice and some monster seasons but fell apart early, which seems to get held against them.

And I know there’s talk about sending a statement of sorts by not voting for McGwire in his first year. But the truth is that the only thing McGwire’s been proven guilty of is a horrible performance before Congress.

The only real concern is that Gwynn or Ripken could surpass Tom Seaver’s record for highest percentage, which was close to 99 percent!

Luckily, some Verducci-type will say “If they were any good, they would have been Yankees” and not vote for them, keeping Tom’s record safe.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Don't waste Time on the magazine's top album list -- here's mine instead

Aerosmith's Joe Perry enduring a starstruck reporter's interview, circa 1983.

Time magazine last week rattled off it’s list of the top 100 albums of all time. Whenever magazines launch into something like this, it’s just going to spark debate and show glaring weaknesses into their tastes.

This list looks like it was created by committee, including the obvious — Sgt. Pepper, Zep's untitled masterpiece — and the unworthy — Hole — and some token references to bands sneered at by critics — AC/DC and Black Sabbath — included probably to head off an onslaught of metalheads.

But if I was reading the list correctly, Time put a Hank Williams greatest hits package in the No. 1 slot, and that’s just wrong for so many reasons. For one thing, adding greatest hits issues is just cheating. It’s like naming an all-time team when someone asks which Mets team is your favorite.
So I had to take things into my own hands. Rather than go to all 100, here’s my Top 15 CDs of all time. I have them numbered, but that’s not necessarily a ranking. These are all special to me for one reason or another.

I included one CD per artist to spread the love around a little.

1) Moving Pictures, Rush (1981)

This was essentially the soundtrack for my high school years. I even used lyrics from "Tom Sawyer" in my campaign posters for a run at student government treasurer. I came in second, but ended up serving for half the year -- a long story -- and worked with Alec Baldwin’s sister, who was very nice. This album is darn near perfect right down to the cover, and even has song about the homeland to push it right over the top. Rush’s next bad album would be its first, and several others should probably appear on this list. Best cut you know: "Tom Sawyer." Best cut you don’t know: "Witch Hunt."

2) Underdog, Audio Adrenaline (1999)

All Audio A albums are good, this one is phenomenal. It’s essentially a greatest hits album, with four songs that are a live staples — "Mighty Good Leader," "Underdog," "Get Down" and "Hands and Feet," which I told you last week is a song that has inspired me trough years of church work. Best cut you know: "Hands and Feet." Best cut you don’t know: "Jesus Movement."

3) Our Time in Eden, 10,000 Maniacs (1992)

I accepted a rotating assignment in our Lansing Bureau in the fall of 1992, and chose to commute an hour each way to be with my family rather than live in the company’s apartment above the office. It was a long, bland drive and our car had a radio but not a tape player. So I propped my boom box in the front seat and had plenty of time to study and enjoy "Our Time in Eden." The Maniacs were my favorite band at the time and this is their best effort track for track. Best cut you know: "These Are Days." Best cut you don’t know: "Eden"

4) Thrive, Newsboys (2002)

This CD has been out for nearly four years, and two cuts are in the top 15 on my iPod’s play count. The band works from worship and praise to pop to straight rockers, all of which are excellent. The title cut is moving — "When you lift me up tender care, when you wash me clean with the palms of your hands, Lord hold me close so I can thrive, when you touch me, that’s when I know I’m alive." — but there’s not a lackluster song on the entire disc. Best cut you know: "It Is You." Best cut you don’t know: "Giving it Over."

5) Glass Houses, Billy Joel (1980)

The fact that the Time list doesn’t include a single Billy Joel record makes it immediately suspect. Joel’s a good Long Islander. He’s less of a piano man and more of a rocker on Glass Houses, but it’s a classic. I waited with my friends Jeff and Craig all day at the Nassau Coliseum to get tickets for this tour. Later, were recounting our adventure at a church youth group meeting, and the leader asked if we would spend the same eight hours waiting to get into a church service. We said "Yes," which was the answer they were hoping for. No one believed us, but lightening did not strike. It should have. Best cut you know: "Sometimes a Fantasy." Best cut you don’t know: "Sleeping With the Television On."

6) Alive! Kiss, (1975)

Greatest live rock album. Ever. I was 11 when this bad boy was released and it was one of the first albums I owned, which means I played it endlessly. And since I tended to crank the volume, I’m sure the rest of my family also can recite Paul Stanley’s between song banter from memory. "Awww hey! So let’s rock and roll all NIGHT and party EV-ERY DAY!" These are the definitive versions of the early Kiss classics, louder, harder and faster than the studio tracks. Best cut you know: "Rock and Roll All Nite." Best cut you don’t know: "Cold Gin"

7) Mmhmm, Relient K (2004)

This Christian punk-pop band gets better with each release. Sometimes the message is subtle and sometimes it’s not there at all, but it’s never objectionable. Seven of the songs on Mmhmm are absolute classics and could be heard in places Christian music typically doesn’t get a spin. A follow-up EP intended to compliment Mmhmm wasn’t as balanced, but acoustic versions of "By My Escape" and "Over Thinking" are alone worth the price of admission. Best cut you know: "Be My Escape." Best cut you don’t know: "The One I’m Waiting For."

8) Before These Crowded Streets, Dave Matthews Band (1998)

This CD is like a gift that keeps giving. I was so hooked by three tracks — "Don’t Drink the Water," "Crush" and "Stay" — that I didn’t play a lot of attention to the others. But as DMB started rolling out the live CDs, and there are many, I started liking different songs and traced them back to the studio. Low and behold, they keep coming from Crowded Streets. Matthews is in some ways the anti-Ramone, in that he never says in 3 minutes what he can say in 8. But when the band gets jamming, it’s typically all good. Best song you know: "Crush." Best song you don’t know: "Pig."

9) Loco Live, The Ramones (1991)

I was familiar with some Ramones songs and even saw them in a mismatched bill with the B-52s at Hofstra University, but didn’t pledge allegiance until my buddy Rich brought me to see them at Toads, a club in New Haven, Conn. It was small, crowded and sweaty — the proper environment to see the pride of Forest Hills, Queens. We went back to see them every time they appeared for the next several years. I like the band’s credo: Say it loudly, say it simply and get the heck out of there. The band’s studio albums are excellent, but I like Loco Live because it’s reminds me of those nights at Toads. And only the Ramones can fit 32 cuts on one disc. Best song you know: "Teenage Lobotomy." Best song you don’t know: "My Brain is Hanging Upside Down."

10 ) Under the Blade, Twisted Sister (1982)

The drinking age in New York was 18 when I was growing up, and I couldn’t wait for that milestone birthday. Not because I was a drinker — I was the designated driver even then — but because it meant we could finally get in to Hammerheads to see Twisted Sister. The boys were playing the Long Island bars for years before they finally got signed to a British label. Under the Blade is mostly songs we had been hearing on WBAB and WLIR concert simulcasts for years. I wrote a review of the disc for my college paper, and asked the guys to sign it when they appeared at a local record store. Dee Snider read it and said I was "astute," which sent me on walking on air for a long time. The late-1990s reissue is the one to own because it adds "I’ll Never Grow Up, Now," a single the band released on its own. Best song you know: Unless you’re a former Long Island metal head, you might not know any of these pre-Stay Hungry songs. Best song you don’t know: "What You Don’t Know (Sure Can Hurt You)"

11) Scarecrow, John Mellencamp (1985)

I didn’t fully appreciate Mellencamp until I moved to the Midwest in 1990. My wife grew up in a small Illinois town, and after spending time there I could finally recognize the people and places Mellencamp was signing about. I like that he has a story to tell, and Scarecrow is best at introducing characters that you want to hear more about, be they the family losing the farm in the title track or the wise old passenger on the bus in "Minutes to Memories." Mellencamp’s 2001 Cutting Heads is more autobiographical and is just as strong and woefully underrated. Best song you know: "Lonely Ol’ Night." Best song you don’t know: "Minutes to Memories."

12) Welcome to Diverse City, tobyMac (2004)

Christian rocker-rapper Toby McKeehan makes a dcTalk reunion less likely with each stellar disc. You won’t go wrong with either Momentum or Diverse City. The former is heavier and has more borrowing from older songs, and the later disc is more of a melting pot of styles. "The Slam" was in several promo trailers and television ads for action movies this year, and I wonder if the Hollywood types ever listened to the lyrics. Toby’s guest list is a who’s who Christian musicians from T-Bone to Grits to Superchic(k). We’re bringing the youth group to see the band next weekend, and Toby’s right on target musically and inspirationally. Best song you know: "Gone." Best song you don’t know: "Hey Now."

13) I’ve Got the Rocks n Rolls Again, Joe Perry Project (1981)

The Aerosmith guitarist’s solo career was brief but memorable. My friends and I loved his solo stuff, and we went to see him several times at a little dinner theater in Glen Cove that was trying to convert into a concert venue. Since the newspaper office at Nassau Community College was right next to the Concerts Committee office, the high school friends thought I had something to do with Joe appearing there. I didn’t, but jumped at the chance to interview Joe before the gig. Joe was physically in the room, but seemed to be somewhat self-medicated. OK, a lot self-medicated. But I was so star-struck that my questions probably didn’t make much sense anyway. The fact that Joe was playing Nassau Community College instead of Nassau Coliseum was probably adding to his discontent. That doesn’t take away from this disc, his second as a solo artist. It’s raw and sounds like it was recorded live. Best cut you (might) know: "East Coast, West Coast." Best cut you don’t know: "No Substitute for Arrogance."

14) Coming Up to Breathe, MercyMe (2006)

I’ve been a MercyMe fan since we caught them at Festival con Dios in 2001. If the band has a pattern, it’s that it starts each disc rocking then slows into piano-driven praise songs that I don’t enjoy as much as the rockers. But the band kept the mellow to a minimum and turned up the volume for their latest release, and it’s simply brilliant. "No More, No Less" jumped into the top two on my iPod play count after just a couple months after it was released. And seeing them in concert this year taught me a valuable lesson about singing at the foot of the stage. Best song you know: "So Long, Self." Best song you don’t know: "No More, No Less."

15) The Rising, Bruce Springsteen (2002)

I’m not a huge Springsteen guy by any stretch, but this release struck home with its stories about the suffering, the anger and the hope for resurrection following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. I get choked up listening to it. Other artists, from the Cranberries to dcTalk, have offered outstanding songs about the day or the aftermath. While not all of the songs on The Rising relate directly to the tragedies, most invoke a story or a feeling of people lost on that day. Springsteen nails it. Not bad for a Jersey guy. Best song you know: "The Rising." Best song you don’t know: "Into the Fire."

Honorable mentions: Kutless, Kutless; Strangers in the Night, UFO; Good Monsters, Jars of Clay; Jesus Freak, dcTalk.

There you go! I’d sure like to hear about some of your favorites.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Pausing to reflect and give thanks -- and take note of the turkeys

I think it’s a shame that Thanksgiving has become something of an afterthought for many people, lost in the crush of shopping and football.

I’ve always liked it. I’m thankful the Lord has blessed me in many, many ways and I don’t say “thank you” enough. I have my health, my family, a career I enjoy, a wonderful church, friends, blogger buddies and, of course, the Mets.

So let’s take a moment one again to reflect on all that was good this year – as well as the turkeys who get in the way.

I’m thankful: That we all got to enjoy a monumentally exciting 2006 baseball season with the Mets finishing in first place for only the fifth time. Wow, was that fun! And I think we’re the favorites to finish on top again in 2007.

Turkeys: Baseball writers who deemed Carlos Beltran only the fourth most-valuable player in the National League. I realize that writers are infatuated with homers for batters and wins for pitchers, and typically just look to the leader board in those categories to cast their votes. But fourth? Excellent blogger Greg Prince of Faith and Fear in Flushing posted on the Crane Pool Forum that he wonders if anyone has ever:
*Won a Gold Glove
*Won a Silver Slugger
*Started in the All-Star Game
*Tied his franchise's record for home runs in a season
*Broke his franchise's record for runs scored in a season
*Played on the team with the sport's best record
...and finished as low as fourth in the MVP voting. Alas, like the no-hitter, and MVP award continues to be elusive for Mets, even when they deserve it. And I’m also angry that Willie Randolph was denied the manager of the year award, too.

I’m thankful for: Costco. Or to be specific, the warehouse store’s liberal returns policy. As you might remember, my beloved 20-gig iPod went muerto last April, plunging me into depression and desperation and without the receipt demanded by Hewlett Packard to use the warranty. My clever Mom told me to go to Costco and see if they could produce the needed document. Once I arrived, the clerks said the just return the dead iPod to them and they would give me store credit to buy a new one. Needless to say, I’m the proud owner of a new 30-gig pod and sing the praises of Costco whenever appropriate – and sometimes when it’s not!

Turkey: Yankee hack Tom Verducci. Speaking of being plunged into depression, Verducci couldn’t believe that his beloved Yankees were unceremoniously dumped from the postseason by the Tigers. Verducci then wrote that “baseball is giving us an October with almost no drama, no moments for posterity and no storyline.” And worse, “If the 2006 baseball playoffs were a sitcom or talk show --- hate to break it to you, folks, but we're sitting through the Arsenio Hall of postseasons -- it would have been cancelled long ago." Apparently, if the Yankees are not involved, Tommy declares the postseason boring.

I’m thankful for: My pastor, the Rev. Paul Krupinski. Paul is a magnificent spiritual leader and has a knack for knowing when I’m down and knowing exactly what to do or say. But check this out – he’s a huge baseball fan! He’s a Cubs guy, which is OK since they’re not exactly a threat to anyone. But he formed a computer fantasy league what plays games based on stats from the previous year and a couple Hall-of-Famers we can add to the rosters. One Sunday before the service, Pastor Paul came over and said the next round of stats was available and on his desk. “I’ll get them after church,” I promised. “If you get them now, you can look at them during the service,” he responded. I’m never going to find a better pastor than that!

Turkey: Kenny “Bleeping” Rogers. We Mets fans know that Rogers can do spectacularly horrific things in the postseason. So it sure seemed suspicious when The Gambler started moving down Yankees and Athletics in the Division Series and ALCS like he was the second coming of Christy Mathewson. Then a Fox camera picked captured the image of a mysterious smudge on his palm during Game Two of the World Series, and ESPN produced photos from other games with similar smudges. Manager Jim Leyland didn’t want to send Rogers back out in front of the Busch Stadium fans – not exactly known for being bullies – and the Tigers didn’t win another game.

I’m thankful for: Speaking of the World Series, my folks presented me with an awesome early Christmas present, a ticket to Game One at Comerica Park. Sure, it would have been better to have the Mets there. But attending a World Series game – any World Series game – is a treat of a lifetime. I’ve been blessed to see Game Six in 1997, too.

Turkey: Guillermo Mota. It’s one thing when Yankees are accused of taking steroids. We expect such things. But it’s another when an active Met gets a 50-day unpaid vacation for testing positive. Now we lose the moral high ground as well as a decent pitcher for the first month and a half of the season

I’m thankful: That I had the opportunity to meet Buck O’Neil at the Negro Leagues Museum during a business trip to Kansas City in February. Buck, as everybody knows, passed away in October and was a beloved ambassador for baseball. O’Neil fell one vote shy of being inducted into the Hall of Fame, yet still made it to Cooperstown for the induction ceremony in August.

Turkey: Braden “Bleeping” Looper. Looper’s lucked into two World Series rings, and Mike Piazza has none. That’s fair. Loops lost his closer’s job to Ugeth Urbina when pitching for the Fish in 2003. This year, he was caught on camera mocking the Jose Reyes chant in the Cardinals’ post-game celebration after the birds got past the Mets in the NLCS. One might suggest to Looper that perhaps the Mets would have been in the postseason last year when Looper was on the team had he not blown eight saves.

I’m thankful for: Audio Adrenaline. My favorite Christian rock band is disbanding this year because singer Mark Stuart is having vocal problems. But I salute the band for helping me grow in my faith since I discovered its music in 2001. The song “Hands and Feet” has been an inspiration for me as I try to spread His word, and time and again I was able to use Audio A songs to illustrate lessons for the middle school youth group I lead.

I’m especially thankful for: You! And other readers who find this corner of the blogosphere. I’m humbled that people come to check out this space. I appreciate all the people who read and post comments. I hope to make it worth your while. I’m grateful to the other bloggers who include me in their links.

Have a wondeful, wonderful holiday!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Honor Jackie, but don't forget Tom, Gil, Willie...

One of the surprises about today’s groundbreaking ceremony was the announcement that a statue of Jackie Robinson would be erected inside the CitiField rotunda.

I think that’s great. Fantastic! Wonderful! I’ll be the guy posing next to it. I expressed my feelings about Jackie here.

But I’ll be even happier if not far away is a statue of Tom Seaver. And one of Gil Hodges and Willie Mays, as well as Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez. Then we need Mike Piazza, and I’m open to discussing Doc and Straw. Perhaps Bill Shea speaking to Joan Payson would be a proper tribute to their roles.

Today’s announcement proves that the Mets do a horrible job of honoring their history, and it doesn’t appear that they’re going to get better at it any time soon.

But the whole statue thing is interesting. In theory, a statue should be a step higher on the list of honors than a retired number. They also become a focal point for your stadium, because people naturally gather around them and snap photos.

So I thought it was odd that the Mets would plan a statue of a guy, however historic and important, who never played a game for them — or had any role with the team whatsoever.

I did a little poking around at what other teams had done. Jackie actually would not be the first such player honored. The Braves have Ty Cobb standing near Hank Aaron, Warren Spahn and Phil Niekro. And the Phillies even have another team’s manager — Connie Mack — in their new yard. The Orioles have a young Babe Ruth, but without any indication of his Yankeeness.

There are some real head-stratchers in the bunch. Let’s review:

Ameriquest Field: Nolan Ryan and Tom Vandergriff, former mayor of Arlington who was key in getting a team located there.

Angels Stadium: Apparently no players have been deemed worthy, but Gene Autry and Michelle Carew, Rod’s daughter, who died at 17 of leukemia, are honored.

AT&T Park: Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Juan Marichal

Busch Stadium: A 10-foot-tall Stan Musial, and smaller likenesses of Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Enos Slaughter, Red Schoendienst, Ozzie Smith and Jack Buck. Very nice. The Cards are a classy organization.

Citizens Bank Park: Richie Ashburn, Robin Roberts, Mike Schmidt and Connie Mack, who was moved from Shibe Park. Luckily the Rocky statue has not ended up here. The Roberts statue is odd because it’s painted like a black and white photo.

Comerica Park: Ty Cobb, Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg, Willie Horton, Al Kaline, Prince Hal Newhouser and Ernie Harwell. Horton is very popular in Detroit and a cog of the 1968 champs, but he might be the worst player ever cast in a statue.

Dolphin Stadium: Joe Robbie, Don Shula and Dan Marino. Perhaps this shows how unwelcome the Marlins are in their own park, but I’m not sure I any Fish player has earned the bronze treatment.

Fenway Park: Ted Williams, with a little kid, no doubt hearing how he is the greatest hitter who ever lived.

Great American Ballpark: Joe Nuxhall, Ernie Lombardi, Ted Kluszewski and Frank Robinson. Will, the resident Reds expert, said they’re taking care of the old-timers first. We speculate that the Bench, Morgan and Perez tributes — I’d argue for Seaver, too! — are pending the resolution of the Pete Rose fiasco.

Jacobs Field: Bob Feller.

Kaufmann Stadium: George Brett, Mr. and Mrs. Kaufmann.

Miller Park: Hank Aaron, Robin Yount and construction workers killed during the stadium crane accident. Aaron is precedent for the Mets adding Willie Mays.

Minute Maid Park: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio. This is a strange one. They’re outside the park completing a double play — at a time when both were active. Usually you wait until guys hang ‘em up.

Oriole Park: Babe Ruth. The Bambino is from Baltimore and grew up not far from the ballpark. Nevertheless, there are a number of very worthy Orioles.

PNC Park: Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Honus Wagner.

Rogers Centre: Fans. This is more of a decoration than a tribute.

Tropicana Field: A generic Devil Ray fielder, again, more of a decoration.

Turner Field: Hank Aaron, Warren Spahn, Phil Niekro and Ty Cobb. You know Chipper "Freaking’ Jones wants one!

U.S. Cellular Field: Charles Comiskey. Yikes.

Wrigley Field: Harry Caray. Double yikes! It’s a strange-looking thing, too.

None: Shea Stadium, Chase Field, Coors Field, Dodger Stadium, Petco Park, Safeco Park and the place in the Bronx.

The Dodgers surprise me, considering the team’s respect toward it’s history.

As for Jackie, this won’t be the first time he’s been cast in bronze. You can find the version of him and PeeWee Reese at Keyspan, a leaping catch in Newark, speaking to kids in Montreal, and giant head at Pasadena, kneeling on deck outside the stadium at UCLA and playing in Stamford, where he lived after baseball.

I’m glad the Mets are honoring Jackie, as we’ve become the de facto keepers of the flame. But let’s not forget our own heroes, too.

Friday, November 10, 2006

"D-Mat" knows what happens to Japanese Mets

It appears the Red Sox, not the Mets, will get Japanese fireballer Daisuke Matsuzaka.

And I say thank goodness.

We’ve probably had more Japanese players than any other team. And lets face it, Mets fans, the results have not been good.

Now this is not an indictment of Japanese players. Obviously there are some excellent ones. But they seem to end up on the rosters of other teams.

No, it seems like there is a Mets curse, where a players skills turn to sushi once he steps on Shea’s sod.

Let’s review:

Takasi Kashiwada (1997)

"Kash" came to the Mets in an unusual way. He was part of a special program to study baseball during spring camp training with the Tides, pitching in 6 games and ended up going north. He posted a 3-1 record, but a non-so-impressive 4.31 ERA in the bullpen. The team shipped him to the minors in early August, though he returned with the September call-ups. He was released after the season.

Masato Yoshii, 1998-99

Yoshii is possibly the high water mark, going 18-16 over two years with a 3.93 ERA in 1998 and a 4.40 ERA the next. But he was dealt in the off-season to the Rockies for "the other" Bobby Jones and Lariel Gonzalez in early 2000, and he self-destructed with a 6-15 record and was gone after two years with the Expos.

But I found this telling tid-bit on a Japanese baseball Webstite that chronicled his career game by game.

"10th game, June 2, 1998: To everyone's surprise, Yoshi did not come back to the pitcher's mound when the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates resumed. The rain had hindered the game from being played for 58 minutes after Yoshii took 2 outs in the 3rd inning. The Mets lead 2 to 1 at that point. The pitcher who relieved Yoshi did not do well. The Mets in the end lost 2 to 5. Michiyo's Note: Yoshii is super afraid of thunder and lightening. I remember the time when he was with the Yakult Swallows, he'd be so frightened to pitch further because of a thunder."

Dude’s terrified of thunder? And he wanted to pitch in New York?

Hideo Nomo, 1998

Of course, Nomo was a legend when he arrived in LA in 1995 and had two decent seasons after that. The he started 1998 2-7 and the Dodgers shipped him our way with Brad Clontz for Dave Mlicki and Greg McMichael. He pitched a so-so 4-5, 4.82 for the Mets down the stretch.

Alas, he angered fans and probably management, too, by bailing out of his last start of the year in Atlanta with the Mets needing a victory to reach the postseason.

We cut him the following spring, and he then pitched in Milwaukee, Detroit, Boston, the Dodgers again and, like so many others, ended up with the Devil Rays for a year.

Nomo, again, like so many others, pitched a no-hitter after leaving the Mets.

Tsuyoshi Shinjo, 2001, 2003

Shinjo was our first Japanese position player and brought a lot flash, speed and cool orange wristbands that were so big they could have been sleeves. Shinjo did everything but hit. Sadly, that’s pretty much a mandatory skill for everyone who doesn’t pitch.

He hit .268 and 10 homers and 56 RBI, and after the season was dealt to the Giants. He was bitter about it, but did get to go to the World Series.

But he must have liked New York, because he returned in 2003, when he hit even less, posting an average south of the Mendoza line and just one homer and 7 runs driven in.

There was one glorious moment. Shinjo made a magnificent throw to nail Chipper Jones at the plate to end a game, preserving a 6-5 victory over the Braves — by far his greatest contribution.

Shinjo returned to Japan, and he ended his career — he says he is becoming a nude model — by playing on a Nippon Ham Fighters team that won the Japan series.

Satoru Komiyama, 2002

Komiyama wore funky goggles when he pitched. That’s about the best thing we can say about him, because the 36-year-old went 0-3 with a nasty 5.61 ERA and no saves before not being asked back. He came with the nickname "The Japanese Maddux." No word on whether the real Maddux filed a defamation of character suit.

Kazuo Matsui, 2003-2006

Kaz kicked ass in his first at-bat in every first game of his season as a Met, hitting a home run. Sadly, it’s the rest of the season that gave him trouble.

He was hailed as "Little Godzilla" but played more like Godzuki. If major league teams never trust another Japanese scouting report again, Matsui is responsible. Hailed as slick-fielding, clutch-hitting and durable, Kaz had a weak arm, poor range, average stick and a semi-permanent spot on the disabled list, earning Cedeno-esque boos from the Shea faithful.

Matsui went from a Times Square introduction to being shipped to the Rockies for a spare part. Alas, I felt bad for the guy. He seemed like he was trying hard, and even moved to a new position.

Kazuhisa Ishii, 2005

Steve Trachsel’s ill-timed injury forced Omar to scramble in spring training for a new arm, and Ishii was the best he could do. Ishii was maddingly inconsistent, matching Roger Clemens pitch-for-pitch in one game and getting shellacked in the next. He ended with a nasty 3-9 record and 5.14 ERA.

Yusaku Iriki, 2007?

Then we have Iriki, who is the answer to the trivia question "Who was the first player to be penalized under MLB’s toughened steroid policy?" He was on the 40-man roster playing for Norfolk at the time and never made it up to Shea. We’ll see if he’ll get the chance, perhaps keeping Guillermo Mota’s roster spot warm until he returns from him own suspension.

So my fear with Daisuke Matsuzaka is that we’d post $30 million to negotiate, sign him to a big contract and find out that "gyro ball" is Japanese slang for "hanging curveball."

We’d see "D-Mat" become "Welcome Mat" for the opposition and protective netting would need to be placed over the Home Run Apple lest it be damaged by the steady barrage of visitor home runs bouncing off the stem.

Then, midway through his second season we’d trade him to the Cubs for Glendon Rusch and — while paying most of his salary — watch Matsuzaka pitch a no-hitter and get the comeback player of the year award.

It's going to be CitiField?

I guess in the grand scheme of things, the new Shea could have a worse name. Then again, it could be better. www.lonestarmets.com had it right when he suggested Derek Jeter Sucks would be a fine name.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

I'm Carlos Beltran and I approve this message

Tomorrow we can concentrate on the next most important elections – the Cy Young, Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year awards.

Can you imagine if the players were allowed to campaign for these things?

Cue the ad….

A black and white photo of Albert Pujols caught with a bad expression with gloom and doom music playing in the background.

“Albert Pujols claims he’s the most valuable player in the league. But where was he when his team was tanking in the last few weeks of the season?”

Then show Ryan Howard looking dejected on the bench.

“Ryan Howard’s Phillies had a shot at the wild card, but fell short when he stopped hitting home runs.”

Then a swooshing sound followed by mocked up newspaper headline slapped at the bottom of the screen: Howard – No leadership.

Then show a nice color photo of Carlos Beltran, maybe even the video of him hitting the homer against the Cardinals in Game One of the NLCS, all while happy, bouncy piano music plays.

Carlos Beltran, right for New York, right for America. Make him your most valuable player

Then a head shot of Beltran from the right side, so the big mole isn’t there.

“I’m Carlos Beltran, and I approve this message.”

Maybe that’s not a good idea, because I’m sick of the attack ads.

I have a love/hate relationship with Election Day.

I’ve been a political junkie since I was a kid. My folks used to allow me to go with them into the voting booth at Hawthorn Elementary and pull the levers, with their direction.

I do the same thing with my kids today. But these new optical scan ballots aren’t as much fun as those huge old machines.

I took my 9-year-old to our balloting place this morning, and there were four round tables set up with cardboard desk dividers where you had to sit down and fill in small ovals with a pen that had a plastic flower taped to it, presumably so you wouldn’t accidentally walk away with it.

“This is like taking the MEAP test in school,” the fourth-grader said as she got busy coloring in the ovals I pointed to.

She made one mistake, and I didn’t want to ask for a new ballot. If Congress swings either way because of one vote in one district in Michigan, you can blame Caroline.

I dropped her off at school after we deposited our ballot in the computer and took our “I voted” stickers, but I think she’s already had the most important lesson of the day.

I vote in every election, even the dull school board contests where people are running unopposed. I think it’s one of the things that make us special as a nation. People have given their lives to preserve this right, and I don’t think there are too many valid excuses for skipping the opportunity.

It’s also true that I’d love to be able to run for something one day. But there are three factors that automatically rule it out.

1) My job. Reporters are supposed to be neutral observers. It’s tough to even keep the appearance of being unbiased it we’re sitting up there on the board or commission. But here’s a little trade secret. Every reporter sits in the audience at these meetings imagining that we could do a better job than the people sitting up there.

2) My politics. I’m too moderate for either party to want me. Which I suppose helps with No. 1. I can understand arguments from both sides.

3) My wife. She says I’m forbidden. I’m even banned from running for a church council after the last experience ended poorly.

So I’m banished to the sidelines. I might be allowed to manage Caroline’s campaign for student council next year. If she lets me. I joked about potential attack ads and she got upset.

Of course, the attack ads are one of the reasons I’m very ready for this day to be over. Michigan has spectacular fall views – if you can see the colors between the political yard signs and billboards.

But I can’t wait to turn on the television tomorrow and not have to endure the endless procession of name-calling, half-truths and untruths. Ever notice that it’s the same man’s voice in all the ads – for both sides? There must be only a handful of companies that produce these dreadful things. Can you imagine the little bitter world of hate those people live in?

Oh, and I'm not even talking about the sportwriters who vote on the MVP and other awards.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Ten excuses for Mota's 50-day suspension

Looks like Guillermo Mota has joined the mandatory 50-unpaid vacation club for his recent positive steroid test.

This is the first Mets player that we actually care about to get busted – sorry, Felix Heredia -- and his timing is pretty bad, considering he was a free agent and all. That’s not going to help with negotiations.

Alas, we had fun with smudged Tigers pitchers last week, so now that the tables have turned, we have to show we are good sports. So, on with Guillermo Mota’s Top 10 Excuses for Getting Busted With Steroids.

1) Had to try something else since Kenny Rogers had already used all the pine tar.

2) The test is in the past. He's not here to talk about the past. He only wants talk about positive things. (Heck, it worked for Mark McGwire. Or not.)

3) He, too, got a vitamin B-12 shot from Miguel Tejada.

4) Sheff said that Barry told him it was flaxseed oil.

5) Needed a good excuse to miss that first series against the Padres, lest Mike Piazza chase him into the clubhouse – again.

6) Was preparing for off-season job on the San Diego Chargers defensive line.

7) When BALCO guy said “Do you want the clear?” thought he was saying “Do you want a beer?”

8) Jason Giambi told him he could take yoga in the off-season to explain the weight loss.
9) He had not time to wash his cap, much less read the label on his meds. Seriously, you see that filthy cap?

10) Needed roids to make sure he didn’t blow important playoff game. Hope he saved the receipt.

The only guy more disappointed than Mota has to be Aaron Heilman, who probably figured resigning Guillermo would have freed him up to be in the rotation.

This is a bummer because we lose the moral high ground when mocking the Yankees. But I still say there’s a difference between a reliever picked up in August is different than, say, a starting first-baseman and starting right-fielder.