Gotham Baseball

Buck, Black Aces, and Black History Month 01/29 by Mark Healey | Blog Talk Radio

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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.

Buck, Black Aces, and Black History Month 01/29 by Mark Healey | Blog Talk Radio.

The First MLB Drug Test And The Other Side Of Branch Rickey

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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.

Really.

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.

Farewell To The Kid: A Look Back at 2012

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gb_cover_06-12(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.
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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.

Really?

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.

The All-Time Gotham Baseball Team: The Complete Ballot

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gbwallpaperDuring my childhood in Brooklyn, my friends and I spent many a day on one of the stoops on East 39th Street arguing about whose favorite players were better. I know to the present day’s more sophisticated fanbase, this may seem trite, but armed with our newspapers or our memories from the previous night’s games, we made pretty good cases for our respective guys.

In the dark days following the inexplicable trade of Tom Seaver, those of us who were Mets fans could no longer claim the superiority of having the best pitcher in town. Maybe it’s because the post Seaver trade Mets were so awful is the reason I became so enamored with baseball history, particularly with NY baseball history. Oh, I still climbed into my dad’s 1974 Dodge Dart and went to Shea to root for Steve Henderson and my main man Lee Mazzilli, but wishing for the likes of players like Carl Furillo and Christy Mathewson also occupied my young mind.

Years later, while working at Associated Press, I came up with the idea (after reading a book about Jack Chesbro), that I wanted to create a destination for any baseball fan to read about the history of New York baseball, from the Mtuuals to the Ccylones, from the Babe to the Beltran, from Jackie to Jeter. So, Gotham Baseball was born.

This ballot is part of a long ongoing project that will be revealed later, but suffice it to say, it’s important we build the best team we can, so vote wisely!

Here is the complete ballot, from First Base to the ballpark. Please share with your baseball-loving friends.

The All-Time Gotham Baseball Team: The Pitchers

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You give us the pitching some of these clubs have and no one could touch us, but God has a way of not arranging that, because it’s not as much fun. – Sparky Anderson

Great pitching is a tradition in Gotham.

From the earliest days of “base ball”, Gotham has seen its share of great hurlers; Candy Cummings, Amos Rusie and Buffalo great Pud Galvin to name a few.

It’s hard to imagine any of New York’s World Series winning teams without thinking of their great starters, and as the game has progressed, it’s shut down closers.

We’ve assembled what we think is a collection of the best pitchers Gotham has had to offer, and we admit it was hard to leave off names like Ron Guidry, Sal Maglie, David Cone and John Franco. We have our reasons for each selection, as well as each omission, but you’re going to have to wait until the Winter 2013 issue of Gotham Baseball to hear why.

We’re asking you vote for 2 (two) left-handed starters, 2 (two) right-handed starters and a closer. Once the votes are tallied, the Gotham Baseball panel of experts from all over the realm of baseball will make the final selections, which will be announced at an upcoming event at Foley’s NY, which was named Best Baseball Bar in NY by Gotham Baseball magazine back in 2011.

Right-Handed SP

Left-Handed SP

Closer

The All-Time Gotham Baseball Team: THE OUTFIELD

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298778_167741566654916_406827449_nYou’ve heard the song plenty of times; Willie, Mickey and the Duke. Usually, when some outlets do this kind of an “all-time outfield” poll, there’s really no need to, as the three aforementioned HOFers are always penciled in. Sure, some folks will argue DiMaggio over Mantle, and some will debate whether or not Snider’s numbers are comparable because he played in a bandbox, etc.

However, Gotham Baseball is being a tad more selective; in addition to including more modern players to the mix, we’re also asking our readership to select our all-time outfield by position, rather than a general “OF” designation.

Once the votes are tallied, the Gotham Baseball panel of experts from all over the realm of baseball will make the final selections, which will be announced at an upcoming event at Foley’s NY, which was named Best Baseball Bar in NY by Gotham Baseball magazine back in 2011.

308281_170998162995923_491930764_nGotham Baseball did a special issue devoted to the “holy trinity” of NY CFers in this issue, check it out for FREE:

http://www.gothambaseball.com/GB005_FALL2011.pdf

Choose The Mets 2013 – The Schmucks Strike Back

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Recently, a comment I made on Twitter after reading about how The Wilpon Ownership Group (or TWOG as I will refer to them from now on), irritated some folks. As I conversed with some fans and colleagues on Twitter, I realized there was a blog post building in there. Now, several days later, the response is pretty much what I expected. Some folks agree with my stance, some don’t. There’s a group of folks who I never expected to agree with me, did so, and there were others, who usually agree with me, chided my decision to call my fellow Mets fans “schmucks” for buying or renewing their season tickets for 2013.

Do I regret calling new or current Mets season-ticket holders “schmucks”? Nope. I feel badly for the small group of fans that were offended, but I’m not taking it back. There are family members, good friends, business partners (including the Mets), and colleagues all included in that group I targeted and my relationships with those folks can — for the most part — survive a little name-calling. They’ve been called worse, so have I.

One of my favorite responses was a direct one to this blog:

what if your kids are dying to go to a mets game. Should you be a crappy father so that you can make a statement to the owners, and avoid being called a SCHMUCK by you?!

Well, as I declared before the 2012 season, my “Choose The Mets” decision would include a single game, the Lynbrook Little League outing, which was a fundraiser. That was it. Somehow, my children still love me.

Also, let’s be clear, this isn’t about winning or losing or being cheap. It’s about good faith, it’s about the truth and it’s about being taken advantage of. This isn’t about not rooting for the Mets any more or looking for another team. It’s about choosing to love the Mets and let TWOG know that we are not stupid and refuse to accept this farce you are laying on us.

When you buy a season ticket, it is a transaction that tells TWOG that you believe in what they are doing. Whether you want to accept it or not, it’s the best endorsement you can give them. So you can blame it on your kids, you can blame it on your friends, you can blame it on your love for the Mets, but it still makes you a schmuck.

To paraphrase Will.I.Am. “In this context, there’s no disrespect”. When I call you, the new or current Mets season ticket holder a schmuck, it’s because you are sending mixed message every time you sit in that seat. Empty seats forced Charles Shipman Payson to sell the team to Doubleday Publishing in 1980. If you the Wilpons gone, it’s pretty simple. If you want the team to stop being a laughingstock, again, it’s pretty simple.

I want accountability, I want to end inefficiency  I want the professional baseball team that I root for to respect my intelligence. So I am willing to stay away. I am willing to risk being loathed publicly by calling people out for being part of the problem and not part of the solution.

Because I Choose the Mets, not TWOG. TWOG has had more than enough chances to screw up my team.

 

LIVE Fantasy Baseball Draft – April 3rd, 2012 – Strawberry’s Grill

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I’ve hosted live radio shows at popular venues for a long time. Mickey Mantle’s and Foley’s NY were particularly fun places to work; great crowds, great atmosphere and best of all, great food.

The tradition continues on April 3rd, 2012, as I will host a LIVE Fantasy Baseball draft at Strawberry’s Grill in Bayside, NY.

Tuesday April 3rd is going to be a party all day long in the grill! SeatCrew will be on hand giving away Mets tickets. Bloomberg Sports will be joining us to give away FREE Front Office 2012 log-ins during our Fantasy draft.

We’re kicking things off during the Yankees/Mets Exhibition game at Digital Domain Park at 2:10 PM. Come for our lunch special, stay for the $10 pitchers.

At 5 PM we’ll be playing baseball trivia with tons of prizes and giveaways.

Next up, Mark Healey of Gotham Baseball will be hosting our Live Fantasy Baseball Draft (7 pm start). The league will be a head-to-head, 5×5 mixed league with owners picking players in a snake draft. Grab a beer, a bar stool and meet the teams from SeatCrew and Bloomberg Sports to snag Mets tickets and Front Office 2012 log-ins, respectively.

Mark Healey is the Editor-in-Chief of Going 9 Baseball and the host of “Going 9 Fantasy Baseball” on SiriusXM’s Fantasy Sports Radio. He is also the Founder of Gotham Baseball magazine, and has been covering NYC baseball since 1998.

It’s bound to be an exciting day in the grill! For dinner reservations during the draft, reservations are highly recommended. Call 718 517 8787.

A couple of things:

To compete in the league, you must not only tqake part in the Fantasy Baseball draft, you MUST be in attendance. And in case you were wondering, bring a laptop or other mobile device so you can draft your players.

There is a $50 entry fee for the league, $25 goes to the Prize pool and the other $25 is being donated to the Gary Carter Foundation. If you are just attending the event and wish to donate something to the Gary Carter Foundation, Darren from The7Line.com will be on hand selling hi special Gary carter T-Shirts as well)

So, c’mon down to Strawberry’s Grill on April 3rd, 2012 for an awesome event, Heck, the Fried Twinkies alone are worth the trip.  Yeah, that’s right, Fried Twinkies.

Enigma – The New York Mets Farm System, Part 1

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An important part of my job, it seems to me, is that by covering a MLB club as an organization, rather than as a 25-man roster, I will have fuller understanding of the decisions the major league club makes. It’s fairer, in my mind anyway, to judge the end results of any given club’s execution in this manner.

Like the professional ballplayers they cover, some writers gain this type of perspective by starting their careers in the minor leagues, covering the Single-A to Triple-A clubs of the team they will eventually cover. Why more writers aren’t trained this way, I’m not sure, but when the result is people like Adam Rubin, the former longtime New York Daily News beat writer for the Mets – who now works for ESPN New York – it’s a pretty good argument.

Despite nearly a decade of comprehensive coverage of the Mets, Rubin is best known for his exclusive news-breaking stories that exposed former VP of Player Development Ton Bernazard’s long-criticized management style. Even more noteworthy, Mets GM Omar Minaya questioned Rubin’s integrity in the presser to announce the Bernazard firing, making the Wharton Business school graduate wonder if he would ever be able to cover the team again.

Now, before you start thinking, “here goes Healey with another Bernazard-bashing column”, I bring this up for a reason. First of all, I also began my career providing “organizational coverage” of the Mets, and have done since 2001. During that time, I have seen three regimes in action, so I have some perspective in this area.

Secondly, it is my contention that the Mets’ system, as it is viewed today, might have a better reputation simply because of the removal of its former overseer.

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SI.com Jon Heyman called the newfound respect and promising performances of youngsters Ike Davis, Miguel Tejada and Jenry Mejia in Spring Training “one of the top stories of spring training”. While it’s true that these prospects are giving hope to many Mets fans that the club’s long term future might be more promising then it looked six months ago, Heyman also states “it’s too late to give ex-Mets exec Tony Bernazard his job back, but if removing his shirt and being impolite once or twice were his only faults, firing him seems like a bad call now.”

Let’s leave that aside for the moment.

Heyman is not the only pundit giving the Mets system better grades of late.

“It’s fashionable in New York to bash their system, but productive international scouting continues to bail out their draft efforts, which are repeatedly hamstrung by ownership’s refusal to exceed slot in the first few rounds.” – Keith Law, ESPN

Law ranked the Mets’ system at #15 among MLB clubs, an improvement over the previous winter, when he ranked them #17. Not a huge jump, but when you consider he upgraded his ranking after a full season of play, rather than a few meaningless ST games, that’s a fairer opinion.

Other observers were less than optimistic about eight months ago.

“… The hard facts are the Mets’ farm system is among the worst in baseball. All you need is to look at what has transpired this year where the best the system has been able to offer in the face of all the injuries are Argenis Reyes, Nick Evans, Wilson Valdez, thrice-released Angel Berroa and Fernando Nieve, a March waiver claim from the Astros. “ – Bill Madden, July 23, 2009 NY Daily News

As with most issues, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Perhaps the person that puts it best once worked in the Mets minor league system, and has dealt with them on a adversarial basis since leaving a few years ago.

“Do they have good players in their system? Sure. (But) having talent is only one part of the equation. Developing that talent … getting it ready for the majors — and preparing the kids for life in a big city with a team that is expected to win are others. The Mets have to prove they can do that on a consistent basis.” – Former Mets minor league employee, now an AL team official.

Several folks we spoke to talked about Bernazard and his staff’s inability to determine which players would benefit from being rushed through the system and the others that needed extra seasoning. Others maintain that Bernazard’s constant presence in minor league clubhouses interfered with some of the minor league skippers’ ability to delegate authority and maintain discipline.

Finally, said a former Mets scout, it was Bernazard’s background as a “Player’s Association guy” and a “glory hound” that doomed him, and created much of the criticism of the Mets system.

“It was more a disorganized mess than a lack of talent. If you didn’t agree with Tony about a player, he either dismissed your opinion, or tried to fire you. If any of the managers wanted to fine or discipline one of Tony’s guys, there’s be hell to play and a visit to remind the (manager) just who was the big man in town. You have to remember this guy worked for the union when he retired, not for a ball club. He was used to getting patted on the back by players and their agents for helping them in negotiating with clubs. He never had to work with the baseball people in the trenches, where ego and bravado is quickly dismissed as “horsebleep”. When it comes to it, Tony wanted everyone to kiss his ass, and refused to kiss anyone else’s.

Could despising one guy be responsible for trashing a whole system? It appears so. Outside of one player agent, nearly every single scout, baseball official and team executive I spoke to in recent years had negative things to say about the Mets, their system, and Tony Bernazard.

Lots of “extremely difficult to work with, or for”, or to meet with halfway”, and yet no one ever offered the “but the system is in good shape.”

Even to biggest of Bernazard critics, of whom I am one, can see the Mets’ farm system is no longer a joke, that’s for sure. But if Bernazard’s only infractions have been shirt removal and f-bombs at security guards, he’d still have a job. Also, it’s hard to imagine new Minor League coordinator Terry Collins or Single-A Brooklyn Cyclones manager Wally Backman having been hired if Bernazard was still around.

However, if you’re going to give him the heat for being his own worst enemy, you also have to recognize that the system does have talent, and he is at least deserving of some of the credit for that.

Mark Healey is the Online Editor for Baseball Digest, and the host of Baseball Digest LIVE. He is also the founder and Executive Editor of Gotham Baseball. Follow him on Twitter at @BaseballDigest9