I can’t predict what’s going to happen, he’s a different guy. He has the strongest desire I’ve ever heard about not ending his career without making it in New York. That’s motivation. I have high regard for what he has left. I think he will be an important addition to this club. He has one wonderful, smart and strong-willed wife, she loves Greenwich, where they live. She’s ecstatic. She wants to be here. They want to be here. It makes a difference. He’s going to live in Greenwich when he’s through playing. So he has a lot of motivation.” – Fred Wilpon, on the return of Bobby Bonilla to the Mets in 1999.
Last year, I opined that the New York Mets were doing their fans a disservice by not holding a FanFest, Winter Caravan or similar promotion to gets fans excited about the upcoming year.
There is NO reason for not trying to do this with the Mets fan. With all of the aforementioned ability to support and promote their own product, especially with tickets sales being down every year since Citi Field opened, the idea that the Mets don’t have an annual Fan Fest is incredibly short-sighted.
Well, many Mets fans agreed, and the folks from MetsPolice.com and The7Line.com have banded together to throw their own FanFest; The Queens Baseball Convention, or QBC as it is referred to in social media.
Shannon “Shark” Prior and Keith Blacknick, the pair behind blog site Metspolice.com, have teamed up with Darren Meenan of The 7 Line clothing brand to bring the first ever Queens Baseball Convention (QBC) to McFadden’s bar in Citi Field on January 18.
The event is a fan fest for Mets fans of all ages to enjoy and meet team legends, including Ron Darling, who was on the 1986 World Series team, and Ed Kranepool, who was on 1969 championship squad.
“Even if I wasn’t involved in it I was going to be there,” Meenan said. “It’s something that will bring fans together, whether you’re a young kid or someone who just likes jerseys. There’s something for everybody.”
Meenan is correct; as in addition to the appearances of Kranepool and Darling, there is a full schedule of events.
The New Media roundtable will kick off the QBC, moderated by yours truly, and features a collection of some of the biggest names in the Mets blogging and podcasting world; Matt Cerrone (MetsBlog.com), Greg Prince and Jason Fry (FaithandFearinFlushing.com), Kerel Cooper (OnTheBlack.com), Steve Keane (KranepoolSociety.com), Mike Silva (ESPN LI 107.1/96.9FM), Taryn Cooper (KinersKorner.com), and Ed Ryan (MetsFever.com).
For tickets, info and special deals, please visit QueensBaseballConvention.com
Two GMs in Mets history had a plan that evolved into a winning one; Bing Devine and Frank Cashen. Each inherited some of the worse baseball talent in the entire game and within a few years, saw their drafts, signings and trades result in a World Series winning team.
Some would put current Mets GM Sandy Alderson into that class. Alderson has turned two All-Star players making a lot of money (Carlos Beltran and R.A. Dickey) into highly touted prospects Zach Wheeler and Travis d’Arnaud. He and his staff, including J.P Ricciardi and Paul DePodesta, have also done a nice job in rebuilding and revamping the minoe league operations of the ballclub.
But as of yet, Alderson and Co. has had very little success in finding talent at the MLB level. Though Marlon Byrd has enjoyed some success, especially of late, the team’s complete lack of offensive firepower has turned this season into another irrelevant one.
With every passing day, the Mets fan base is growing more and more frustrated with the state of the team. Though the “Super Tuesday” debut of Wheeler and continued stellar work by Matt Harvey resulted in a sweep of the first place Atlanta Braves, the team imploded again on Wednesday night.
Fire Terry Collins! The Wilpons are cheap! What has Sandy Alderson and his front office really done in three years…we’re WORSE!
This is a plan that Alderson put in place from Day 1. We Mets fans need to be patient, they know what they are doing. Look at the teams that did spend money this offseason, like the Dodgers.
That’s a brief summary of some of the thoughts of a large portion of Mets fans on sports radio and social media, and to a certain extent they all have a point.
Despite the presence of Harvey and Wheeler, another solid season from David Wright and Daniel Murphy, there have been few standout moments from the rest of the roster. To a man, almost every player that Alderson has imported this offseason has been a failure.
It doesn’t mean Alderson is a failure, or that he’s a terrible GM, but the “Sandy is doing a fabulous job, he has a plan, and we just have to be patient” mantra is inaccurate.
Some folks like to say that any criticism of Alderson for this current roster is “hindsight” and unduly harsh, but aren’t GMs supposed to make teams progressively better, not worse? I am fully aware of Alderson’s money woes, but not sure I can say he’s always been:
Now as for value, let’s look at some of the OFs Alderson could have signed for similar to equal value for the 2013 Mets:
Endy Chavez – When in doubt, bring back and old favorite who will make the fans smile as Rome burns. The fact that he’s been been far better than the departed Colin Cowgill should be noted.
Ryan Raburn – Versatile veteran helping Indians battle for AL Central. Can also play the infield.
Nate Schierholtz – In some ways, the opposite of every player the Mets imported this offseason; productive and consistent.
Ryan Sweeney – Not a game-breaker, but a good defensive OF who doesn’t fall apart when he doesn’t get a ton of playing time.
Lets be real clear; methodology is secondary to performance. This is pro sports and GMs are graded on results. And given the fact that the Mets have had so little money to spend, and that Alderson has wasted 10.5 million this season on Shawn Marcum and Frank Francisco alone is cause enough to render his performance to date as incomplete.
Kool Aid is not served here, and pom-pom waving is for children and folks who follow college football. I have heard Al Harazin, Joe McIlvaine, Steve Phillips, Jim Duquette, Omar Minaya and now Alderson tell me about “The Plan”. I have heard Fred Wilpon promise “a new direction” many times, and to a certain extent with each of his GM hires, his family’s clumsy and catastrophic interference with said “Plan”.
Alderson still has to find some offense, and we are hearing that he plans to trade for a significant impact player in the coming months. He will likely have to deal some pieces from the improved minor league system he’s revamped. Money and prospects are short in supply for the “New Mets” with “The Plan”, so I’m hoping that Alderson plans on improving his ability to supply the talent at the MLB level that he’s been unable to provide at this point.
When that happens, you’ll see me start to believe in this current regime’s version of “The Plan”. Until then, it’s just another attempt to sell a flawed product to a miserable yet loyal fanbase.
As the New York Mets get ready to begin the Zach Wheeler era, anyone who has followed the team as long as I have knows that the excitement of a young pitching prospect making his major league debut is tinged with more than a touch of fear.
I’m not talking about the “Generation K” debacle (though it certainly applies), but instead hearken back to another young hurler who was touted as the next great franchise pitcher; Tim Leary.
As Leary progressed in his first spring as a Met, despite his statistics and raves from opponents, he says it became more and more obvious to him that he was uncomfortable. Nothing was wrong with his arm, but Leary was troubled by the way he thought he was being used.
In 1979, his junior year at U.C.L.A. and the year he became the Mets’ first selection in the draft, Leary struck out 111 batters in 148 innings. In his first professional season, with Jackson of the Class AA Texas League, Leary struck out 138 batters in 173 innings, and he was named the league’s most valuable player.
But Leary did not see himself as a strikeout pitcher. He preferred to rely on intelligence and a range of pitches. ”Play with the batters’ minds,” he says. That was not the Mets’ plan.
”I know he thinks that way,” Bill Monbouquette, the Met pitching coach and the organization’s minor league instructor last year, said recently. ”I’ve said, ‘Tim, you have a chance to be a power pitcher. A power pitcher doesn’t mean you’re going to go out and strike out 13, 14 or 15 a night. It means you’ll be hard to hit.’
”He’s said, often, ‘I’m a guy that gets ahead of the hitters, and gets everything over. I consider myself more of a ground-ball pitcher, making them hit the ball and making the guys catch the ball.’ ”
That was clearly not the style that made Leary the talk of the Mets’ camp. Leary had discussed his reservations about being a power pitcher with Monbouquette, but not with Joe Torre, the Mets’ manager last year, or Bob Gibson, the pitching coach. ”There were no lines of communication,” Leary said.
I’ll be watching Harvey / Wheeler Day with antiipation like everyone else, but forgive me if I will be sitting on my hands mos of the time.
I don’t know if I’d call myself “a man of notoriously vicious and intemperate disposition” but I have to admit, I do feel a bit like William Munny out of Missouri today. Part of this feeling comes from being out of the loop for most of the last few months, and partly because I’m seeing and hearing things in the Mets blogosphere that irritate the living hell out of me.
As for my absence; I’m proud to announce that I’ve “graduated” from my Front End Web Development course at General Assembly and my project; a re-design and re-launch of Gotham Baseball is coming soon. As for the other, the list is long.
My pal Shannon over at MetsPolice (which awarded me the “Gunslinger of the Year” Mazzie award earlier this year) is calling Mets fans that didn’t show up to Banner Day “front runners”.
Here’s the problem. 99 Banners.
Last year the Mets had about 300. This year, 99.
I can do math, that’s down 66%.
What the hell am I supposed to do if the Mets decide not bring Banner Day back in 2014? What possible argument would I have?
I have never went to a Banner Day in my life. I have no problem with any fan that cherishes it, or puts an illogical level of importance on said event that is built for little kids (which is nice), or pom-pom fans to gush about their team even when its an embarrassment (which is pathetic). But “front runner”?
A Mets fan has ever right to refuse to attend games because the team, once again, is a joke. This is not 1984 with a slew of pitching (and positional) prospects just waiting for a Gary Carter or a Keith Hernandez to take it to the next level. This is a franchise still in the throes of a major financial armageddon with an ownership that keeps telling us that they have a plan, and a GM who sounds like Baghdad Bob every passing day.
Are Lee Child fans that refused to go see “Jack Reacher” because casting Tom Cruise as Reacher was akin to calling Colin Cowgill an MLB outfielder “front runners”? No. Because people have the right to determine that they’ll say no when they are asked to participate in a circle-jerk.
If the Wilpons refuse to have an “Oldtimer’s Day” or choose not to celebrate the 1973 Mets, or continue to ignore what a Fan Fest would mean to the fan base because “Banner Day’ was under-attended, then it is on THEM.
Some people can’t afford to drop 200 bucks to take their family to see a Mets game. Even on Banner Day. Maybe they want to wait and see what the next Tom Seaver looks like in person instead of watching Shawn Marcum make millions to throw 85 mph fastballs. Maybe, just maybe, thses fans feel like they are owed a decent ballclub after 30-plus years of mostly wasted, stupid baseball?
I have said it before, and I will say it again; until the Wilpons sell or put a team on the field that demonstrates the same financial commitment that they are asking of us, they can go screw. If they cancel Banner Day because fans are fed up and stayed home, it’s just another reason to demand the Wilpons to sell the damn team.
Another pal of mine, John Delcos, took Mets Triple-A manager Wally Backman to task the other day for answering a question honestly about prospect Zach Wheeler.
Yesterday, Las Vegas manager Wally Backman told a local radio station: “Personally, I think if he has a couple of more starts like his last start he’ll be headed to the big leagues, and rightfully so.’’
Huh? I don’t recall GM Sandy Alderson saying something like that.
I’m not saying Backman is right or wrong in his analysis or projection of Wheeler, just wrong in saying anything of that nature in the first place.
Backman manages Triple-A Las Vegas. He does not speak for the Mets’ organization, and his comments put undue pressure on everybody, from Backman, to Wheeler, to Terry Collins, to Alderson.
Once somebody from the organization, even Alderson, suggests a timetable, a clock starts ticking. So, what happens if Wheeler isn’t up in two starts? What then? Another timetable? You can’t keep teasing the fan base that way.
Backman is out of line in making such statements. But, could it be he spoke because the Mets don’t have a policy in place on how to publicly handle Wheeler?
John, I respect you, and enjoy your work, but c’mon.
Backman answered the question posed to him as honestly as he could. I prefer that to Alderson’s vague “There will come a time when his performance converges with our needs.” nonsense. As for teasing the fanbase, I’ll take Backman speaking honestly to Alderson make-believe “considering” players like Justin Upton as possibilities “that just didn’t work out” for the 2013 Mets.
I guess I will just keep my front-running ass at home hoping that one day the Wilpons’ ability to run a major-market baseball teams with higher aspirations than “having a chance” will “converge” before my 50th birthday.
Matters of race are never easy to discuss or write about. In today’s media landscape, where short blurbs and slideshows dominate content, the difficulty of writing about complicated things like race is especially hard.
In baseball, the number of African-Americans is dwindling and players from Latin American countries are on the rise. Add in ownership, media that covers the sport and a fanbase that remains predominately white, there is always potential for disconnects about race.
I’ve written about race before, trying to understand how during the 2011 offseason how there wasn’t a single African-American interviewed for any of the then-five managerial openings in baseball.
I wonder if Jackie Robinson — who was in the last days of his life during the 1972 World Series when he chided MLB for not yet having hired an African-American manager — would prefer everyone wearing “42″ on Jackie Robinson Day, or MLB making sure its teams were adhering to policies the sitting commish put on the books himself?
For weeks I have been asking current African-American coaches about this non-existent market for their services. Each one has declined to be interviewed, even off the record, for fear of potential blowback. The baseball beat writers I have contacted have each given a collective shrug at the question. One went even farther than that:
“Not sure I understand your point. should teams put on a show?’
I’m not telling anyone who to hire, but unless teams expand the talent pool and include African-Americans in their respective managerial searches, how can a qualified candidate get the exposure he needs to get to the next level?
Nationals GM Mike Rizzo is very high on his third base coach Bo Porter, but he hasn’t gotten a single call this offseason. Porter is a fantastic instructor and could be an asset to any club. Yet he sits and waits.
To the credit of the Houston Astros this offseason, they not only granted Bo Porter an interview, they were so impressed with his presentation, he got the job.
But let’s be clear; I’m not happy that Bo Porter got a job because he was black, I’m happy that an organization that is looking to change everything about how it has done business in the past has also embraced the responsibility of making sure it has crossed all of its T’s and dotted all of it’s i’s.
Ultimately, I am pleased because I think Bo Porter is going to be fantastic manager.
I took my share of heat for writing the article, folks accusing me of playing “a race card” and such. But facts supported my argument. I also made sure that I spoke to several people in baseball about the issue; a former GM, a broadcaster, several coaches, and a few players. For me, having multiple sources on board creates as close to a fail-safe position as any journalist can have, especially when discussing and asking such issue such as race.
It’s not as apparent, especially recently, that every writer takes those same measures, and the end result is accusations about agenda, faux controversy and tabloid directives.
Recently, both Andy Martino, former Mets beat writer now baseball columnist for the New York Daily News and Adam Rubin, the beat writer for ESPNNY reported an incident that recently occurred between Mets minor league proapects Zach Wheeler and Aderlin Rodriguez.
Zack Wheeler, one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, was reprimanded last weekend along with teammate Aderlin Rodriguez for an on-field incident that led to ethnic tensions in the Mets’ minor league clubhouse, according to organizational sources.
In a recent intrasquad game, Wheeler drilled third base prospect Aderlin Rodriguez in the hand with a pitch, and Rodriguez feared his hand was broken. Sources said Rodriguez subsequently told Wheeler that if he missed Opening Day, Wheeler would too. (Not a good career move to allegedly threaten the top prospect in the organization, by the way.)
Rodriguez had pimped a home run off Wheeler during a previous intrasquad matchup. Some in the organization were glad Wheeler displayed a mean streak in retaliating with the suspected purpose pitch, although not thrilled about having an in-house plunking. (It’s still not officially established Wheeler hit Rodriguez on purpose. Wheeler has denied it.)
It turned out Rodriguez’s hand was not broken, and he actually homered again in a regular minor league game days later.
Rubin, who has covered the team far longer, is the only reporter who covers the team as an organization (often traveling on his off days to check in on the Mets’ top prospects during the course of the season) is no stranger to reporting controversial Mets issues. Yet, there’s no mention of any “ethnic tensions” in his article.
Where did the ethnic tension come from? Because Martino quoted a source saying that “The American guys and the Latino guys were yelling at each other”? Were there any punches thrown? Nope. Were there any racial epithets or slurs used in the argument? Apparently not because Martino didn’t report it. So why the “ethnic tensions” in the headline, in the subhead and in the body of the story? Because Wheeler is American and Rodriguez is Dominican?
Both Rubin and Martino say Rodriguez was “pimping” after he hit his home run. Using Martino’s logic, can’t I now accuse these writers of racial bias? Do Latino players ‘pimp’ and white players just “hot-dog” or “show-up” the pitcher? Sounds silly? Yes, because it is, and so is Martino’s “story”. If you have a racial slur being used, the you have a story. If not, you have zilch.
But then again, race and rabid speculation is a Martino staple.
There were a few players turned off by how the Dominican Republic team was celebrating during the WBC Martino asked David Wright about whether his old teamate Jose Reyes and his DR teammates were acting. Shockingly Wright had no problem with it. But some others did, and that, according to martino is clearly racist:
Guys like Willie Bloomquist instead decided to furrow their brows.
“I’m not saying what they’re doing is wrong,” the infielder said of the DR theatrics, according to Anthony McCarron. “They’re playing with emotion and that’s fine.
“How you show your emotions, I think, is another thing. It’s just a matter of your view on the game of baseball and what your view is on respecting opponents and the uniform.”
Oh stop. No, seriously, please lighten up. If Captain America does not think that the Dominicans “disrespected the game (and what a loaded and dreadful term that is)”, everyone else needs to chill, yes? And did Wright find all the dancing disrespectful?
“No,” he said, with an answer quick and firm. “It’s energy. It’s intensity. And different teams show it different ways. That’s what made the atmosphere so great — you had the contrast in styles. It really was awesome.”
And you know what would be even more awesome for Wright, the Mets, and fans of outer-borough baseball? A little more flair on the field and in the stands, like it was in the old Los Mets days.
Granted, his accusations were subtle in that doozy of “a story”, but Martino has q fep as a writer who inserts race in his work.
The headline is all you need for this doozy:
Mets fans have lost patience with second baseman Luis Castillo, and it is hard to ignore race factor
Mets fans have lost patience with second baseman Luis Castillo, and it is hard to ignore race factor
Luis Castillo got booed because he was not a very good baseball player. Yes, he played hurt, and yes, he hit hit .300 in 2009. But yes, he was a terrible signing. And given that his contract was immovable, many fans looked at Castillo ( and lefty Olkver Perez) as one of the reasons it was hard for Mets to improve during terrible seasons in 2009-11. But race? Aside from the fact that Martino doesn’t give any reason for his charges in the story — outside of his own speculation and that of a “friend” — it’s just another example of a writer pushing his own agenda.
I’ll go even further to point out some realities for Martino, who regularly provs he has as much of handle on Mets history as the team’s ownership group.
Pedro Martinez, Mookie Wilson, Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Jose Reyes, Cleon Jones, Tommy Agee, Ed Charles, Felix Milan, Edgardo Alfonzo, Al Jackson, Rafael Santana and Hubie Brooks number among some of the Mets fans’ favorite players over the 51-year history of the team. To accuse the fan base of racism because they didn’t cheer for Luis Castillo is appalling. Almost as appalling as Martino including the “Mets fans are racist” theme in the later chapters of “The Mets” the hardcover retrospective that the Daily News put out last season.
Yes, Andy, racism is a part of our society, baseball, the Mets and in the stands. But one of these days, it’d be nice of you could actually prove it when you choose to “report” it.
Appropriate to share today, which would have been Jackie Robinson’s 95th birthday, a archived podcast on which I talk about the roles that Negro League Legend Buck O’ Neil — including excerpts from my one-on-one interview with him just a few months before he passed away — and “Black Aces” author Jim “Mudcat” Grant played in the African-American journey to Major League Baseball.
For much of the last few years, Mets fans have been asking for someone to stand up in the New York Mets’ clubhouse, take charge, and lead the team. Now that he’s been designated as the “Face of the Franchise”, some would say that David Wright is that guy, and has always been destined to be that guy. He plays hard, plays hurt, and is accountable. But in the past David has not shown — to the public at least — that he’s willing to demand the same accountibility of his teammates. Mike Piazza was much the same way, letting his talents and supreme effort do his talking for him. While it isn’t fair to criticize either player for this approach, I think it is fair to wonder whether a vocal, emotional player can make a difference on a team that lacks a true veteran presence.
Compounding that lack of a “holler guy” is a front office that doesn’t seem to value those qualities in players and a manager who as reluctant as Wright o hold the players publicly accountable. That’s probably how the Mets themselves like things, nice, easy, loose, etc. And there are fans who like that as well, preferring the positive outlook and “small-town” approach.
But there’s also another portion of the Mets fan base that feels differently. Those who miss the emphatic curtain calls, the chip on their shoulder Mets who didn’t care if the rest of the league hated their guts. And as much as they like their new state of the art ballpark, there are those who miss the days of a noisy, rocking crowd that made visiting teams loathe playing in Flushing.
The Mets are young, and if David Wright is going to continue to be a quiet man, a leader is needed, and has been for some time.
Some might argue that Carlos Delgado was that leader, but others would say he was a failed and divisive one. Impact bat? Hell yes. But a leader? Leaders don’t manipulate the clubhouse, play politics behind the manager’s back, or encourage other players to do the same.
One very amiable sportswriter who covered the 2005-2008 Mets told me recently that he was very shocked at Delgado’s , “Based on what I heard about Carlos Delgado, I thought I was going to love the guy. He was progressive (referring to Delgado’s activism), was interested in politics and had the reputation of being a real stand-up guy. The reality? He was easily the biggest (bleeping) asshole I’ve ever met in baseball.”
Many would say, and I would agree with them, that one of the biggest differences between the 2007 Mets that blew one of the biggest divion leads in history anf the 2006 Mets team that dominated the NL East until falling to the Cardinals in Game 7 of the NLCS was the absence of Cliff Floyd. Though no longer a full-time player, he was a valuable bench player for the Chicago Cubs in 2007. And in 2008, a lot of folks cited his leadership skills as of of several factors in the Rays getting to the World Series.
I interviewed Cliff Floyd more than a few times during his career, and the following is an excerpt from a article I posted on the old Gotham Baseball on February 26, 2006 (thanks to WayBackMachine.com for the link)
“This is New York, man. If you try to figure it out (alone), you will get in trouble.” – Cliff Floyd
In the past few days, the word out of spring training at Port St. Lucie is that Mets’ outfielder Cliff Floyd has had a very positive influence on David Wright’s young career, serving as a mentor of sorts to the third baseman. I chuckled quietly to myself when I heard someone say “so he makes [Wright] carry his bags, and that’s serving as his mentor? [Bleep].”
Fact of the matter is, it’s not the first time Floyd has played mentor it in his career, definitely not the first time he’s done it as a Met, and not even the first time he’s done it for the left side of the infield.
It was only a year ago around this time when the questions surrounding Jose Reyes were about his ability to stay on the field, not his on-base percentage. Injuries had taken most of his first two years with the Mets, and Reyes fielded questions all last spring about his hamstrings, not his walk total.
Floyd wasn’t worried about his young teammate.
“As long as he’s in the lineup,” added left-fielder Floyd said, “good things will happen.”
Though the team’s veteran players had all been effusive in their praise for Reyes, it was Floyd who really understood what Reyes was going through.
In 1993, while in the Expos’ system, Floyd was picked by Baseball America as the No. 3 prospect in all of baseball. The ranking got him the cover of the publication, and created a high level of expectation for the young first baseman. Tagged with star potential from the day he joined the Montreal organization, Floyd’s early career was stalled by a seemingly endless series of physical challenges, not only hampering his output, but threatening the career of the kid with the “Can’t Miss” label.
A wrist injury in 1995 that left him with six of the hand’s eight bones either broken or dislocated, nearly ended what was a potentially star-filled career after a collision at first base with then-Met Todd Hundley. Floyd said the injury may have caused doubts in others, but it allowed him to attack his rehab in a ferocious manner.
“I learned a lot about myself then,” Floyd said. “[Reyes] just needs to separate himself from the perception, and concentrate on his game. This is New York, man. If you try to figure it out [alone], you will get in trouble.”
Exactly 10 years later, the 2003 Top 25 prospect rankings by BA Listed Reyes as the No. 3 top minor league prospect, a fact not lost on the now-veteran Mets outfielder.
“It can be difficult [to have all of that expectation],” said Floyd. “He’s got a lot of talent, but you have to learn how to know your limits. We need him to be in the lineup every day.””I think he’s handled everything really well, the way he’s battled back [after all the setbacks].”
For Reyes, having an accomplished All-Star caliber player like Floyd encourage him and assist him in his transition back into the Mets clubhouse was priceless.
“He has been so great.” said a beaming Reyes. “He’s been talking to me so much about how to take care of myself properly and how to keep the energy in my legs.”
“He says to take it day by day, and when I feel better, everything will be OK.”
(Editor’s Note – In 2006, Reyes had arguable the best season of his career; .300 AVG, 19 HRs, 81 RBIs, 64 SBs, .841 OPS)
I was the first player drug-tested in baseball, and I am the one who asked for it.” – Babe Dahlgren
The BBWAA’s stance on The Steroid Era is well-known. They have made that very clear. There are folks on both sides of the issue. Many feel that the lack of evidence supporting the exclusion of players like Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell based on rumors they may have used PEDs is an injustice.
Let’s face it, we also live in an era where its hard to imagine people choosing integrity over the millions that can be made with the popping og a pill or the injecting of a needle. These players may indeed be innocent, and if they are, they have the power, resources and platform to defend themselves.
Some other players never got that opportunity.
There was another player who once took a drug test, the first one in known baseball history. It was paid for by then-MLB commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, and it came back clean. For some reason, Landis and several of the commissioners that followed him, refused to make the results public, or provide the player with some level of justice.
Instead, Babe Dahlgren, once considered the best fielding first baseman in baseball, was sentenced to a life as a baseball vagabond, and even after his playing days, plagued with the inaction of a baseball industry that turned it back on him a long time ago.
The whole story is chronicled in the book, Rumor In Town: A Grandson’s Promise to Right a Wrong, written by Dahlgren’s grandson, Matt Dahlgren.
Sadly, two of the most respected figures in baseball history played a large role in Dahglren’s misery, and it is perhaps that reality which is responsible for the lack of coverage and discussion of these events.
From Gotham Baseball’s Spring 2011 Issue, “Going Nine: The Other Babe”
“The guy can do everything, and I have a hunch that he invents plays as he goes along. If an old-timer were to swear to me on a stack of testaments that there was every a greater defensive first baseman than Ellsworth ‘Babe’ Dahlgren of the Yankees I wouldn’t believe him.” John Lardner, The New Yorker, June 13, 1940
According to Matt Dahlgren, Babe was also the victim of a vicious rumor, that he was a marijuana smoker. Mike Lynch of Seamheads.com summarized it best, stating that the rumor was “started by a Hall Of Fame manager, perpetuated by a Hall of Fame executive, and buried by a Hall Of Fame Commissioner.”
Dahlgren started his career in the Boston Red Sox system and was poised to become the team’s first baseman until the Bosox got Philadelphia A’s slugger Jimmie Foxx. Babe hoped for a trade and got one, albeit to a worse situation; the Yankees, where Lou Gehrig was entrenched. Determined to prove that he belonged, Dahlgren took his game to the Yankees’ top farm team in Newark in 1937, where he hit. 340 for the Bears, one of the greatest minor league champions in baseball history.
He would make the Yankees in 1938 as a utilityman, but played in just 27 games, mostly as a pinch-hitter. In 1939, he would make the most of an opportunity he desperately wanted, he just hated the way it happened.
Replacing Gehrig, Dahlgren hit a home run, a double off the top of the fence and two drives that were caught against the fence in a 22-2 rout over Detroit. “I especially admired Gehrig because he was a first baseman like me,” Dahlgren told Newsday’s Joe Gergen in 1988. “I never dreamed one day I’d be in New York to take the man’s place.”
He would hit only .235 that year for the Yanks, but he would hit 15 home runs and drive in 89 runs batting seventh or eighth in a powerful lineup. In the World Series that year, Dahlgren would hit his only World Series home run, helping the Yankees sweep the Reds. The future looked bright for the 27-year old Dahlgren. Then he went home to San Francisco, and his life would never be the same.
Local legend Lefty O’Doul hated the fact the Joe McCarthy, and not he, was the manager of the New York Yankees. He was often telling anyone who would listen that “Ol’ Marse Joe” was a push-button manager and that “anyone could manage the Yankees”. An Associated Press photographer took a picture of Dahlgren receiving “batting tips” from O’Doul at a off-season workout (the reality was that they barely talked that day). Combine the cracks that O’Doul made that day to the media in ayyendance like, “The Yankees have to send me their players to learn how to hit.”, was the killer. The Yankee manager, albiet legend, was a thin-skinned heavy drinker. Throw in the fact that the now-veteran first baseman who was well-liked by his teammates and the local press, and you had the makings of a very bad situation.
Dahlgren had another solid year in 1940, hitting .263 / 12/ 73, and played a brilliant first base, but when the Yankees did not win the pennant. McCarthy seemed to blame Dahlgren, citing a key error down the stretch that cost the Yankees a ball game.
He was sent to the Boston Braves in 1941, was dealt midway in that season to the Cubs, where he really played well, hitting .263 / 23/ 89 for the season. While Dahlgren was having the best year of his career to date, McCarthy was telling the New York sportswriters – who all liked Dahlgren and thought he was a superb first baseman and were watching Johnny Sturm hit just .235 with no power and nowhere near the glove – that Dahlgren’s arms were too short to play first base.
The longer the season wore on, the longer it looked to the media like McCarthy must have had a personal beef with Dahlgren, and the writers pressed McCarthy on the trade. Now, remember, it was the 1941 season, and Joe DiMaggio was setting his magical streak and Ted Williams was hitting .406 for the Red Sox. Though sad he had left the Yankees, Dahlgren was happy in Chicago, playing well and finally getting the accolades he deserved.
Then, almost instantly, Dahlgren would spent the rest of his career as a tlanted and mysetrious vagabond. In 1942, he would get traded from Chicago to St. Louis to Brooklyn (where Branch Rickey would accuse him of smoking marijuana, the first time Dahlgren would hear of the rumor) to Philadelphia (where he became an All-Star) to Pittsburgh (where he would drive in 101 runs and hit .289 in 1944) and finally back to St. Louis, where he would finally be discarded.
In the midst of the incredulous rumor, Dahlgren informed then-Commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis of the rumor, and the Judge, according to the book, paid all the expenses for what would prove to be a “clean” drug test for Dahlgren. But Landis and every subsequent Commissioner – up until his death in 1996 – failed to address Babe’s cause.
Dahlgren also died not going who had started the rumor. He had always assumed that it was Rickey, because of the way the situation had played out. It wasn’t until his grandson Matt, who wanted to write the manuscript that would become “Rumor in Town” (Babe’s original manuscript, as well as a letter from Landis proving the rumor existed, were lost in a fire at Babe’s home in 1980), that the origin of the rumor surfaced.
Dahlgren was doing research for his book when someone suggested that Marty Appel, arguably the preeminent Yankees historian, for stories about his father.
Appel told him about a conversation he had with New York Times sportswriter John Drebinger in 1973, recalling McCarthy talking to a small group of baseball insiders at the end of the 1940 season. McCarthy, Appel remembered Drebinger telling him, noted that the Yankees would have won the pennant in 1940 had it not been for an error that Dahlgren made in a late-season game against Cleveland. “Dahlgren doesn’t screw up that play if he wasn’t a marijuana smoker.”
Tired of being made a fool for suggesting that the obviously proportionally limbed Dahlgren’s arms were more than long enough, McCarthy decided to spread a rumor so incredible, so scandalous that few would ever repeat it. But the ones that did cost a good man his career.
“Rumor in Town” might be a promise by a grandson to his grandfather to right a terrible wrong, but one would hope that it also motivate Major League Baseball or motivate the BBWAA to right a terrible injustice. To date, the case is one that MLB doesn’t feel needs to be reopened.. And that is a big a tragedy as was the rumor that cost Babe Dahlgren his career.
(This story first appeared in the Early Season 2012 issue of Gotham Baseball magazine. You can read the entire issue here MH)
“I’m aware of the fine nucleus the Mets have. They just missed winning the pennant last season. And I feel I can do my part to help them win a championship.” – Gary Carter, speaking to reporters after the December 1984 trade that sent him from the Montreal Expos to the York Mets.
“As easy as the trade for (Keith) Hernandez was, the trade for Gary Carter was much, much, much, much more difficult,” Cashen told Newsday’s Steve Marcus. “It took about 10 telephone calls and a couple of face-to-face meetings and was done over a period of a couple of months before I could finalize the deal. He [Expos GM John McHale] didn’t want to do it. I thought the possibility of getting him was slim and none. We needed a hitter and a catcher and he fit the bill completely. I hung in there for a long time, much longer than you do for an ordinary kind of trade.”
It was an extraordinary trade for an extraordinary player who would prove to be the crucial to the team’s 1986 World Series championship. He was the perfect guy at the perfect time. A “Captain America” type personality, a Gold Glove defensive catcher, and a MVP-caliber power hitter all rolled into one.
It’s hard to remember a more exciting time to be a Mets fan. Following two consecutive Rookie of the Year campaigns by Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, and an unlooked-for 90-win season by Davey Johnson’s 1984 club, the Flushing Faithful were thinking World Series for the first time in a long time.
And true to form, the Kid delivered the goods immediately
Carter’s Opening Day game-winning home run off of St. Louis reliever Neil Allen, a former Mets All-Star who had been traded for Hernandez two years earlier, raised the stakes at Shea Stadium to epic proportions. The drama of the blast (we didn’t call them walk-offs just yet), was matched by the upraised fist and the first of many passionate curtain calls “Kid” would be asked to grant for the rest of his tenure as a Met. And no one did a curtain call quite like Gary Carter. Pointing to the right side of the Shea Stadium crowd, then to the left, punctuated by a “YES!” fist pump, it made the fans love him even more. It also drove opponents nuts. Mike Lupica, the award-winning sportswriter from the NY Daily News didn’t really understand the hate back in 1986, especially for Carter,
“Gary Carter? Sure. Carter is a ham. He always has been. It`s his nature, he can`t help himself. Home runs send him into this high-five frenzy. This is news? This is bush? Carter waited a whole career to get a stage like Shea. He`s supposed to be Ted Williams all of a sudden?”
His best year for the Mets would be that 1985 season, but while the Mets would win 98 games, they would lose a tightly-contested NL East race to the Cardinals. Carter would be an All-Star from 85-88, but injuries and the team’s dependency on both his cleanup bat and handling of the pitching staff, would wear on his body. It was the last days of baseball before PEDs, and only through sheer will was Carter able to battle through. He was already 31 when he donned the blue and orange, so a long stint in New York was never in the offing. His knees had already been surgically repaired twice before coming to Gotham, and would be worked on three more times before he left. But it always was the quality of his Mets career that is remembered, not the quantity.
Carter would touch a lot of lives during his career, including my own. In the summer of 1986, it became apparent that my sister Nicole would need a kidney transplant. My dad – a huge Cary Carter fan dating back to his Expos days — was the donor, and when the Mets were taking on the Astros in the NLCS, we spent most of that postseason watching the games on hospital TVs. After the World Series, in which Carter did more than his share, my father wrote a letter to Gary telling him about our family. Not long after, both my dad and my sister received autographed pictures of Carter with personal messages attached, as well as an invitation for my dad, mom and sister to meet Gary at Shea Stadium. They did so during the 1987 season, and my family could not have been more touched by the personal way the All-Star catcher spoke with my sister. We had loved Jerry Grote and John Stearns in our house, and that guy Piazza surely was appreciated, but the Kid was the king.
He was reduced to a shadow of his former self in the 1989 season, hitting just .183 in 50 games for the Mets. He would spend his last three seasons as a decent backup catcher for the Giants (1990) and Dodgers (1991) before ending back up with the Expos in 1993, where he finally said good-bye to his playing career.
Carter had never won a World Series for the Expos, but the organization – despite whatever previous animosity had existed – not only retired Carter’s number, but threw him a big party to do so.
I caught up with Gary in 2001, when I was covering the first-ever season of the Brooklyn Cyclones. Carter had spent the last few seasons with the Mets as a roving catching instructor, and was in Brooklyn that week working with the Cyclones catchers.
After interviewing him for a piece I was preparing about Brett Kay, the young Cyclones catcher, he and I had a few minutes to chat. In what turned into an almost 45-minute conversation, I explained who I was, and thanked him for his kindness to my family. Instead of saying “Oh I remember” or some other phony platitude, he simply asked how my dad and sister (she had just received a second transplant, after a second transplant, this time from my brother), were doing. When I told him that my dad was great and my sister was doing even better, he grabbed me by the shoulders.
“That is amazing,” Carter said. “God bless your family, and God bless your sister.”
Later that year, Gary would be inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame. However, he was still waiting for his well-deserved induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame when it was announced in the winter of 2002 that he was 129 votes shy of getting into Cooperstown. It would mark his fifth straight year of eligibility, and with the declining health f his then-84 year old father Jim, Carter was – rightfully so – starting to get a little exasperated, especially when his wife – who had planned a huge surprise party for what most people predicted would be the year he would be inducted. Yes, he deserved the honor, but he wanted his father there to see it happen.
Jim Carter lost his wife to leukemia when Gary was just 12 years old, a devastating loss for both of them. Gary would raise millions of dollars during and after his baseball career to fight the disease as a tribute to his mom, and his burning desire to have his dad at his induction ceremony was foremost in his mind. To be waiting this long, many surmised (including this writer, who wrote a column wondering that same thing for the Associated Press that year), seemed unfair. Imagine what it felt for Carter, who was watching his then-84 year old father’s declining health before his eyes, trying to be democratic about the lack of support from West Coast writers who failed to vote for Carter time and time again. The same people who voted in Carlton Fisk into the HOF, first ballot no less, didn’t see fit to put Carter in the same class.
Consider this, Carter batted .262 with 324 homers and 1,225 RBIs, while Fisk batted .269 with 376 and 1,330 in 203 more games. Carter was an 11-time All-Star, won three Gold Gloves and one World Series ring while Fisk was a 10-time All-Star, won one Gold Glove and no rings.
A year later, Carter did get in, but while his father would live to hear the news, he didn’t last long enough to see Carter inducted. It was a crushing blow for Carter. But as he had always done before, he grinned, bared it, and moved on with his life. He was ready, he felt, to do something special.
In 2004, Carter angered some folks when he honestly answered some questions about Art Howe’s job status as Mets manager, saying he would be interested in the job if it was offered. The person who asked the question knew Art Howe was still the Mets manager, though it was pretty clear that he was a goner. So, when Carter, in his always honest fashion, said what was on his mind, he was vilified. Lying, it would seem, is the preferred stance in these matters. That fact remained that Howe was a dead man walking and everyone in New York knew it. It was time for a radical shift in philosophy.
In 2004, the entire baseball operations department, enabled and divided by ownership – was an absolute mess. Fred Wilpon, now the principal owner, was never comfortable with the hiring of Jim Duquette as the GM. Duquette, one of the best liked people in baseball, wasn’t a “star” in the elder Wilpon’s eyes. The son, Jeff Wilpon, had always championed Duquette as the person who had the combination of great baseball relationships and a healthy respect for statistical analysis (it was Duquette that pushed for the Mets to hire Rick Peterson and make him the highest paid pitching coach in baseball). Fred had tried to get Omar Minaya, once a trusted assistant to the now-deposed Steve Phillips, to share the GM duties with Duquette, an arrangement that both rejected. So instead, to “help” his “untested” GM, Fred Wilpon went to his old pal and scouting legend Al Goldis to serve as a “superscout” and assistant GM. The public meltdown of Duquette’s choice as assistant GM, Bill Singer (Singer was fired after making ethnic slurs and mimicking Dodgers assistant GM Kim Ng at a baseball function in the off-season), was bad enough, but his replacement, another legend, Bill Livesey (the man who helped build the Yankees farm system under Gene Michael), was the man who drafted Victor Zambrano for the Tampa Bay Rays. If you’re a Mets fan, you know that the June 30th deadline deal that sent Scott Kazmir to the Rays for Zambrano is still known as “Black Friday”. It would prove to the biggest backlash of criticism of the Mets in years, and it had gotten considerably worse since Wilpon had taken over sole ownership of the club in 2002. It would be the third straight season of below .500 baseball, despite the NL’s highest payroll.
In what was already a dysfunctional organization, chaos reigned supreme, and it was ownership’s fault. Accountability was (and still isn’t) a Wilpon strong point, but everyone knew – especially COO Jeff Wilpon – that hiring Art Howe in the first place was a awful mistake. He was aloof from his players, ill-equipped to handle the New York media, and lacked the kind of personality that would have allowed for the fans to support him despite his lack of tactical skills.
Carter as Mets manager made sense to a lot of people, even after his “insult” to Howe, including former Mets pitcher, minor league coach and now broadcaster, Bob Ojeda.
From the Daily News:
“(Ojeda) was aware that Carter was quoted last week as saying he’d like to manage the Mets, a faux pas that likely will hurt his cause … (but) he believes that Carter would be an ideal fit, even though he has no managerial experience.
“I don’t believe it takes a tremendous amount of experience when you played the game at that level for 20 years, especially as a catcher,” Ojeda said. “I really think Gary could pull it off. And he has the stature the Mets need right now. I’ve seen him get ticked off and step up and tell people what he thinks, They need leadership over there because right now the team on the field is a reflection of the front office – there’s no strong or clear leadership.”
There were those in the Mets front office that agreed, and told Gary to “sit tight, and we’ll get something done soon.”
Unfortunately for Carter, the sudden hiring (and demotion of Duquette) of Minaya was the worst thing that could happen to his major-league managerial aspirations. For one, like his old boss Phillips, Minaya wasn’t keen on 1986 Mets. For another, Minaya’s new assistant GM Tony Bernazard, wasn’t keen on personnel he couldn’t control. It didn’t take long for Bernazard to alienate much of the organization after his hire, but as he was the right-hand to the apple of Fred Wilpon’s eye, he was going to get most of the incumbent front office exiled anyway.
Even after Minaya’s hiring, many in the organization felt that Carter was going to be a coach on the new manager’s staff . When that changed, so did his immediate future. Despite spending years as a rover in the minors, and despite being in the Hall of Fame, the Met with a World Series ring earned as a Met wasn’t offered a Mets major league job.
Instead, he was offered a job Minaya thought he would refuse; managing the Low-A Gulf Coast League Mets. He would win Manager of the Year in 2005, taking the GCL Mets to the championship round. The next year, he would win MOY honors again, this time in the full-season A Florida State League, winning the FSL championship with the St. Lucie Mets. Current Mets left-hander Jonathon Niese pitched for him on both of those clubs.
“The one thing Gary stressed to us was team,” Niese told Newsday. “He said individual goals were meaningless. He said the name on the front of the uniform was more important than the name on the back. That’s what I’ll take from my two years with him.”
Carter knew that with the Mets having won the NL East in 2006, he wasn’t going to be the Mets manager in 2007. But he also knew that there was something rotten in the state of Denmark. It was no secret that Jeff Wilpon was furious about the heavily favored Mets’ loss to St. Louis in the NLCS, and blamed Willie Randolph for the loss. To be fair, while the Mets’ offense and bullpen struggled in the seven-game defeat, Randolph made some very strange managerial decisions with both his bullpen and in-game machinations that played a role in the team’s demise. Add in the fact that Randolph and Bernazard despised each other, and an organization that was in complete upheaval, Carter wanted to know where he fit.
Carter was told by Bernazard that the organization wanted him to manage the 2007 season in Binghamton. It was a promotion they said, and another step closer to the major leagues. Carter, whose knees had now been through five different procedures, had enough of the minor leagues. He knew all about the empty promises that had been made to Ken Oberkfell, who had managed several years in the minors for the Mets as well. The former infielder who had won a World Series ring with the Cardinals in 1982 had been a successful minor league manager at several different levels and, like Carter, had won his share of accolades, including a Manager of the Year award, But “Obie” had never even gotten an interview when Minaya decided to hire Randolph. So, when the Mets wouldn’t make any promises that he would be the guy to replace Randolph (and it was when, not if), when the time came, he declined the offer. When he said he’d be happy to return to St. Lucie, they informed him that Frank Caccitore had been already given the job.
From The New York Times:
“How do you not take a promotion if you want to manage in the major leagues?” Minaya said. “We gave him an opportunity and we offered him more money and a more high-profile job and he turned it down. What more could we do?”
Carter said that Tony Bernazard, a team vice president, told him there were two reasons the club wanted Carter to go to Binghamton: to follow the players he had coached in Class A and to learn how to use the double switch, a move usually made when relievers enter a game.
“I said, ‘Tony, I played 18 years in the major leagues and you’re going to tell me I have to go to Double-A to learn how to do the double switch?’ ” Carter said. “I can do that in my sleep.”
Jeff Wilpon will understand, thought Carter, so he contacted the Mets’ COO who had followed around Carter as a teenager. The younger Wilpon suggested Gary look for work elsewhere.
So much for loyalty.
So Carter tried to get hired by both the Dodgers and Rockies, but both jobs were given to someone else. Then the 2007 Mets blew a 7 ½ game lead in September and missed the playoffs. If the Mets didn’t get off to a great start in 2008, then Randolph would be gone. So Carter took the manager’s job for the Orange County Flyers in the California-based Golden League. He proceeded to win the 2008 championship and the steered the Long Island Ducks to the Atlantic League playoffs.
The Mets were playing uninspired .500 baseball in May of 2008 and Randolph would soon be a goner. Carter took one last shot and called old friend Jay Horwitz to see if he had any shot at getting the job. Then Carter made a mistake he would regret for the rest of his life, he told the whole truth and nothing but the truth during an interview to “The Mike & Murray Show” on Sirius Satellite Radio. He admitted the call to Horwitz and said the Mets could use a person with his experience.
He never worked in affiliated baseball again, for telling the damn truth.
“I learned that things can be taken out of context,” Carter told reporters when he was hired by the Long Island Ducks. “There was no intention whatsoever to undermine anybody. I was simply asked the question, “would you be interested?” Of course I would be interested in any capacity because that is where my passion is. If it’s not with the Mets, I would like it to be with maybe somebody else.”
Hall of Famer Gary Carter, exiled to the independent leagues by a .260 career hitter in Bernazard who had never served as a scout, instructor, coach or manager at any level in the minor or major leagues, believed he had no other recourse than to “campaign” for the job. It wasn’t like Gary had any real shot at the job this time, so to make a big deal about it seemed petty.
Yet everyone did.
“I’ve always been accommodating and it’s hurt me because I’ve worn my heart on my sleeve,” Carter told the Times during a contentious interview following the hiring of Jerry Manuel. “They throw me under the bus and two weeks later, (Willie’s) fired anyway. Yeah, so I’m the one to blame.”
In 2009 Gary Carter would find peace in baseball and combine it with his greatest passion; his family. Palm Beach Atlantic University needed a baseball coach, and with Kimmee Carter serving as the team’s softball coach, it was an easy “yes’ for the Kid.
Ray McNulty, writing for the TCPalm.com, couldn’t understand, like many of us, why Carter was taking a job at a Division 2 college.
So this is what it has come to for Gary Carter, the Hall of Fame catcher who managed successfully in the minor leagues but can’t seem to get back to the majors — not as a manager, not even as a coach.
This, apparently, is the best he can do.
And that’s as sad as it is ridiculous.
“Not even many D-I schools in this nation have a Hall of Fame baseball coach,” said Lu Hardin, president of PBAU, where the baseball team compiled a 24-67 record the past two seasons.
No D-II school should.
But Carter lives in nearby Palm Beach Gardens. His daughter, Kimmy Bloemers, is the school’s softball coach. And, at age 55, after 19 major league seasons as a player and six years as a minor league manager, this was another chance to stay in baseball.
Maybe his best chance.
And that’s as sad as it is ridiculous.
Perhaps the worst part about the loss of Gary Carter was the Wilpon / Katz ownership not giving Cary Carter a last chance to say goodbye to the fans that loved him. One last chance to thank the man who helped them win their last championship. One last curtain call for the best of the 1986 Mets, the best damn team this franchise has ever had.
They chose not to. They chose to posthumously honor him. With a patch and a big sticker on the outfield wall.
Gary Carter deserved better.