Gotham Baseball

Gotham Baseball: Endangered Species: The New York Baseball Player

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New York Empire Baseball founder Jordan Baltimore with one of his young players.
New York Empire Baseball founder Jordan Baltimore with one of his young players.

I’ve had the pleasure of covering big league baseball and being involved in youth coaching the last several years, and I have often wondered why the “New York Game” as we call it here at Gotham Baseball, isn’t as well-represented in MLB as are other parts of the country. Part of the problem is how MLB teams look for talent, as there seems to be very few MLB scouts on hand in NYC for even the best of programs.

Despite the obvious weather-related reasons why most kids playing baseball in New York don’t get as much attention as their warm-weather counterparts, we decided to look closer at the problem.
First we sat down with Jordan Baltimore, who runs a top grade teaching academy in NYC called New York Baseball Empire, which spends as much time training older kids to coach, as teaching younger ones to play.

Go to GothamBaseball.com for the entire interview…

 

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For Mets Fans By Mets Fans: The Queens Baseball Convention

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QBC2Last 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

The Mets, The Plan; Still Skeptical After All This Years

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HarazinTwo 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!

or

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:

http://network.yardbarker.com/mlb/article_external/aldersons_shrinking_payroll_in_quotes/8122600

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.

Tim Leary: A Cautionary Tale

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Tim_Leary_(Mets)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.

While doing research, I came across this New York Times article about the aftermath of the Leary injury, and found it fascinating.

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.

Unforgiven: A Mets Gunslinger Returns

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sell-teamI 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”?

Seriously?

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.

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.

While Front Office Searches For An Outfield, Mets Look For Leadership

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show_image_sonarpostFor 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.

Sound familiar?

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)