Posts Tagged ‘Mets’

It’s the National Pastime, So to Speak

Saturday, April 15th, 2017

This article first appeared in Talking Writing on June 9, 2011.

By Jeremiah Horrigan

If the Mets can win the World Series, the United States can get out of Vietnam.” -- New York Mets pitcher Tom Seaver

“If the Mets can win the World Series, the United States can get out of Vietnam.”
      — New York Mets pitcher  Tom Seaver

Some still call it the National Pastime, but I’d say baseball is something closer to the National Religion. That revelation came to me after a few hours spent poring over a summertime favorite of mine: a 500-plus-page tome called “Baseball’s Greatest Quotations,” by Paul Dickson. It’s become a catechism of the game for me — a pain-free, smile-inducing way to rediscover a love of baseball I hardly knew I had.

Like other religions, baseball has seen better days. It’s under siege, even on the sports pages, which sometimes read more like the financial pages these days. Or the police blotter, with headlines about grand juries, not grand slams.

Make a pilgrimage to one of baseball’s storied cathedrals, and you’ll find that corporate grandees have paid far more than most of us can earn in a lifetime to secure the pews with the best sight lines. And then there’s the six bucks you’ll pay for a cup of baseball’s holy water: body-temperature beer.

Do I sound like a believer? A defender of the faith? I’m not. I grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s and hated playing baseball more than doing long division. More even than mowing the grass.

But baseball was the faith of my father and his father before him, although both men saved room in their hard-working lives for the more traditional forms of worship.

Over the years, I’ve argued with and turned my back on both types of religion, but I know I’ll never completely say goodbye to either. Nor do I really want to. Both are too tightly entangled — for good and ill — in a remembered time that gives me great pleasure.

Which is why “Baseball’s Greatest Quotations” is sitting, Gideon-like, beside me on a hotel nightstand as I write these words during a weekend vacation. No longer in danger of being struck out, chosen last, or beaned by one of Tommy Corcoran’s famous fastballs; no longer forced to learn humiliating life lessons by shagging grounders or losing pop flies in the hot summer sun; in short, no longer having to practice the religion all the other guys loved so much, I find one of my greatest summertime pleasures to be this: reveling in the words of baseball’s most notorious characters.

An extremely partial and necessarily random list of these characters — whose nicknames even Damon Runyon couldn’t improve upon — would include Jim “Baby Cakes” Palmer, Kenny “The Incredible Heap” Kaiser, “Marvelous” Marv Throneberry, “Say Hey” Willie Mays, and Enos “Country” Slaughter.

These names are but the wispiest helix of baseball’s indestructible DNA, as evidenced by the book’s subtitle: “From Walt Whitman to Dizzy Dean, Garrison Keillor to Woody Allen, a treasury of more than 5,000 quotations plus historical lore, notes, and illustrations.”

The book is a century-spanning sampler of mots both bon and not-so-bon, requiring no great familiarity with the quotees or the particulars of the game. Its appeal is, quite simply, nostalgic, hearkening back to the storied “simpler times” that all nostalgia encompasses. And you needn’t have lived in those times to delight in them.

You want simplicity? Here’s the great DiMaggio, looking back on his first days in the majors: “I can remember a reporter asking for a quote. I didn’t know what a quote was. I thought it was some kind of a soft drink.”

Keep in mind that the gifted rube who said those words went on to marry Marilyn Monroe.

You want some more? Here are a very few of the choicest bits:

  • “You may glory in a team triumphant, but you fall in love with a team in defeat.” — author Roger Kahn.
  • “No, why should I?” — pitcher Don Larsen, when asked if he ever got tired of speaking about his World Series perfect game.
  • “Finley is a self-made man who worships his creator.” — sportswriter Jim Murray, describing A’s club owner Charlie Finley.
  • “If the Mets can win the World Series, the United States can get out of Vietnam.” — New York Mets pitcher Tom Seaver, circa 1969.

I could go on, but, as the great A. J. Liebling would have said, it would explode me.

The ultimate baseball quote belongs to Philip Roth (whose best and funniest work, “The Great American Novel”, is a baseball saga, natch). Here’s his description of what baseball meant to him as a kid growing up in New Jersey, a gem plucked by Dickson from the pages of The New York Times, circa 1973: “… baseball — with its lore and legends, its cultural power, its seasonal associations, its native authenticity, its simple rules and transparent strategies, its longeurs and thrills, its spaciousness, its suspensefulness, its heroics, its nuances, its lingo, its ‘characters,’ its peculiarly hypnotic tedium, its mythic transformation of the immediate — was the literature of my boyhood.

“Literature of my boyhood.” Wish I’d said that. But I’ll stick with my religious metaphor and recommend Dickson’s book to true believers and old apostates everywhere.

And, don’t forget, if memories of that centerfield sun get to be too much for you, quench that thirst with an ice-cold can of Quote — the drink of champions!

  • Baseball’s Greatest Quotations, by Paul Dickson, published by HarperResource, January 1991 (revised edition published by Collins Reference, September 2008).            

 

If the Grandy Man Shirt Fits, Wear It

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

The shirt

The shirt …

I’m wearing my Curtis Granderson shirt today. The Yankee shirt. Number 14. This is significant for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is why the heck a 75-year-old man is wearing a shirt bearing the name of any of today’s professional athletes.

It was a gift. Several years ago, my son, Zack, who has inherited my rooting interest in the Yankees and my mother’s desire to choose the perfect gift for whomever was on the receiving end, gave it to me for my birthday. (If my memory fails and it was Christmas, he will let me know.) It was … almost perfect. One size too small. A nice compliment, but that consigned Grandy to the bottom of the shirt drawer for … well, until now.

Now, I’m wearing it and, obviously, this is another significant reason for mentioning it. I’ve lost weight and gotten in better shape. Wearing the shirt actually makes me feel a little younger and a little stronger and who cares if it’s all in my head. My head can use all the positive vibes it can get these days. As I’ve mentioned before, I often turn to sports when the rest of the world is too much to face first thing in the morning.

… This seems like a good point to let the non- sports fans in on the conversation. Zack gave me the shirt because Granderson was my favorite Yankee at the time, and that was only partially because he’s a heck of a good ballplayer.

The man ...

The man …

Let’s get the ballplayer part out of the way first. Granderson, who now plays centerfield for the New York Mets (the Yankees should have never let him go), is a three-time All-Star. He has power and speed, being the rare major leaguer to have 20 home runs, 20 triples and 20 stolen bases in the same year. He can bat leadoff or third, depending on the team’s need. He’s an excellent outfielder. A streaky hitter, he is also a clutch hitter and can carry a team when he’s on a hot streak, as he did for both the Yankees and Mets. He is a quiet leader in the clubhouse. He also strikes out a lot, but today that doesn’t seem to matter in baseball. It also makes him human.

None of that is why I have a Curtis Granderson shirt. Nor is it because I liked to hear Yankees’ radio announcer John Sterling sing, “Oh, the Grandy Man can” after every Granderson home run. If I wanted speed and power I could have gone for Mickey Mantle, who was at least in my age group. The truth is, as good as Granderson has been on the field, he has been spectacular off it. Indeed, his biography on Wikipedia talks as much about his community and charitable work as about his baseball exploits. You don’t find many athletes who come close to what he has done and continues to do out of uniform.

And who, by the way, are as well-spoken as he is. In fact, his ability to express himself served him well as an ambassador for Major League Baseball International, traveling  to England, Italy, the Netherlands, France, South Africa, China, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan to promote baseball.

There’s more. With a noticeable decline in the number of black athletes choosing baseball, he has worked with the African-American community to discuss the reasons. When signed to endorse products for Nike, Louisville Slugger and Rawlings, he asked them to donate money to his foundation or equipment to inner-city baseball programs rather than pay him. That foundation raises money for the education of inner-city children and Granderson has also written a children’s book, ‘’All You Can Be: Dream It, Draw It, Become It!,’’ which is illustrated by New York City public school students.

Too good to be true, right? Other players, counting their home runs and their Twitter followers, must resent this guy, right? Well, in 2009, the players chose him baseball’s man of the year for his community work and, in 2011, he was voted one of the friendliest players in the Major Leagues, according to a poll Sports Illustrated conducted of 290 players. One more thing. He.wears his socks high, the old-fashioned way (which I really like), to honor players from the Negro leagues.

And so what? you say.

And so, I say, in my ever more persistent effort to be aware of synchronicity in my life, that I was given my Granderson shirt to wear today because it would inevitably lead me to a place of positive thoughts, a place of hope and a bit of serenity.

There are, after all, Curtis Grandersons in all walks of life, accomplished, intelligent, articulate, modest, compassionate, generous and willing to lead the way. Some of them are even rich. (Granderson’s getting paid $15 million this year by the Mets.) I’d venture to say that any one of them who happened to magically appear behind a big desk in the Oval Office tomorrow would have the common sense to say, “Get Steve Bannon the hell out of here right now or you’re all fired!”

That’s what. They’re out there. We just have to dig their shirts out of the bottom of the drawer and start wearing them.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

And So It Went … A Review of the Events of the Week

Sunday, July 24th, 2016

By Bob Gaydos

Fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear. Hate.

Fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear. Hate.

Ridicule, lie, insult, lie, mock, lie, bully, lie. Hate.

Fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear. Hate.

White, white, white, white, white, white, white. Hate.

God bless America. God bless Donald Trump.

She said/she said. She said she said/she said.

Ego, ego, ego. Lies, lies, lies. Fear, fear, fear. fear.

Hate.

For those fortunate enough to miss it, the preceding is my synopsis of the Republican National Convention, which dominated the news last week. This is by way of resuming my contribution to the Internet dialogue with a regular Sunday collection of events that piqued my interest, tickled my fancy or struck me as almost too dumb for words (see above).

For this first installment, I’m going back more than a week because the major media apparently had no time to report on anything but the white supremacist rally in Cleveland. So …

  • Mick Jagger is going to be a father,
    Mick Jagger ... proud papa to be, again

                              Mick Jagger
                 … proud papa to be, again

    for the eighth time. Gathering no moss (sorry), Jagger, who is a great-grandfather, will be 73 when the baby is born next year. Mom-to-be is a 29-year-old former ballerina, who is said to be quite content with her relationship with the Rolling Stones frontman, which includes everything but marriage, living together and Mick changing diapers. Mine not to judge. I was 50 when my first son was born, 52 for the second. But I changed a s***load of diapers. Also, vasectomies are safe.         

  • Interesting footnote that occurred to me as I researched Jagger: He has four children, aged 18 to 32, with his former partner, Jerry Hall, 60. She and Jagger split 17 years ago. Earlier this year, Hall, a former model, married media mogul and billionaire Rupert Murdoch, 85. There’s no talk of additions to their extensive families, but Hall chose a favorite site of her old Rolling Stones days for her honeymoon with Murdoch, who just seemed happy to complete the climb to get there. Draw your own conclusions.
  • The Russian track and field team was disqualified from the 2016 Olympics because of what was described as a state-sponsored comprehensive doping program involving the 2012 Olympics and other competition. (The International Olympic Committee, never known for bold action, decided not to ban the entire Russian team, leaving that decision to the ruling federation of each sport.) The sports world was not shocked at the news, but, responding on social media, Russian fans criticized the author of the report that fingered the Russian testing lab and government officials by saying he was a typically biased American. He was, in fact, a typically neutral Canadian academic. Denial knows no nationality.
  • Pokemon Go. Why didn’t I buy Nintendo stock two weeks ago? I have no idea how the virtual reality game works, but these people should be working for the CIA. Maybe they are. (By the way, there’s a Charmander hidden in this copy, which you can find if you buy the app. Only $1.99. See the e-mail below.)
  • The National Basketball Association moved its 2017 All-Star game from Charlotte to New Orleans. The principled move was a response to North Carolina’s transgender bathroom law, which is a classic example of the fear-based legislation proposed in the Republican platform at that hate-fest in Cleveland. Well-played, NBA.
  • Terry Collins, manager of the New York Mets, had the honor of managing the National League team in this year’s baseball All Star Game. He had two Mets on his roster for this exhibition of the sport’s best. Players consider it an honor to be chosen. They consider it even more of an honor to actually play and when your manager is the All-Star manager, you figure on having a good chance of getting in the game. Go figure. Bartolo Colon, at 43, the oldest all-star and a fan favorite, never got to pitch. Neither did Jeurys Familia, the Mets’ star relief pitcher. They were not happy, but politely kept it to themselves. Collins managed to get players from the 14 other teams in his league in the game, but said his guys were only going to be used in “special” situations that didn’t arise. Terry, Terry, Terry, the whole game was “special” and it didn’t mean anything in the standings. These were your guys. Special treatment would have been letting each pitch to a couple of batters.
  • Roger Ailes was fired as the boss of Fox News, by Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Fox News. Ailes was shown the door
    Roger Ailes ... Fox boss no more

                                Roger Ailes
                         … Fox boss no more

    (with a hefty severance check) when Gretchen Carlson, a former Fox anchor, filed a lawsuit  against him claiming sexual harassment. Other females then joined in to say Ailes had behaved the same with them. The move by Murdoch was swift. (It’s good to be the king and a billionaire.*) It was also without much controversy, probably because Ailes is well-known as a thoroughly despicable person. He is, in fact, in large part responsible for creating the orgy of anger and paranoia reported at the top of this   column by molding Fox News into an organ of fear, bigotry, misinformation, disinformation, and hateful, negative, bordering-on-compulsive propaganda directed at Democrats, in particular Barack Obama, the first black American president, and Hillary Clinton, who, if there really is some method to all this madness will soon become the first female American president.

R.I.P. GOP. Lincoln rolled over in his grave last week. So did Eisenhower and Reagan. John Boehner cried. Paul Ryan lied. And so it went.

* With a nod to Mel Brooks.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

A Baseball Lover’s Laments

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

By Michael Kaufman

Would video replay show that Yogi was right, that Jackie Robinson was out?

Would video replay show that Yogi was right, that Jackie Robinson was out?

Poor Howie Rose and Josh Lewin. The two radio announcers for the New York Mets have had their hands full, not to mention their mouths full of marbles, struggling their way through the copy for the new Wendy’s ad touting the fast-food chain’s new Tuscan chicken on ciabatta sandwich: “Go for the gusto with our lightly breaded chicken, rich garlic with roasted tomato aioli and sliced asiago cheese, on a toasted ciabatta bun. Available for a limited time only.” After stumbling on “aioli” and “asiago” the other night Lewin closed with, “Available for a limited time only at Wendy’s, home of hard-to-pronounce foods.” A couple of night later Rose, perhaps too focused on avoiding mispronouncing aioli and/or asiago, stumbled on “tomato.”

But I feel even sorrier for them—and for other baseball announcers who are in the same boat—each time they are forced to read endless inane copy that turns every available moment into advertising revenue.  A few days ago I heard an “injury report” informing listeners that no one on the team was injured at the time. That bit of silliness was sponsored by a law firm that specializes in injury suits.  How long will it be before they sell the advertising rights to the sunshine or the air we breathe?

And why, oh why, did the Mets agree to link the name of the ballclub to the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity? How many times must we be reminded that WOR is the “new home” of those two bags of poison gas “and the New York Mets.” Eventually it occurred to me that there must now be others taking their place on WABC so I tuned in for a moment, only to hear the toxic intonations of Michael Savage, who used to be on WOR. A moment was more than enough: “Dr. Savage” (as he enjoys being addressed by callers) sounded like he was foaming at the mouth.

But the worst thing about the Mets switching radio stations is that the WOR signal is much weaker than that of WFAN, their former longtime home. WOR doesn’t carry as well to Orange County. I tune in a game when I’m driving and I often have to listen through static and high-pitched whistling noises that other family members find unbearable. This usually ends with my grumpily acceding to a passionate request to turn off the radio. It also reminds me of what it was like when I was 10 years old and begged in vain to be allowed to stay up later to hear the end of a game.  How did I end up with a wife as merciless as my parents? How can they not care that it’s the top of the ninth or extra innings? I used to be able to pick up WFAN and listen to Mets games when we went to New Hampshire during the summer. Good luck with that now that they are ensconced in their new home alongside Hannity and Limbaugh.

The thing that annoys me most, however, about baseball this season is not the overbearing advertising or the Mets changing radio stations. Rather, it is the increasing use of video replays to determine if an umpire has made the correct call.  Now, for example, if a manager believes the umpire made the wrong call of safe or out on a close play at home plate, he can calmly signal to the umpires that he’d like to challenge said call. The umpires will then trudge from the field via one of the dugouts to watch the replay. This may take a minute or two (affording previously untapped advertising opportunities). Upon their return to the field the umpires will either uphold the original decision or reverse it.

This is supposed to be wonderful for the game.  I find it more likely to induce sleep or a change in channels.  I prefer the occasional bad call (umpires are human after all) and the ensuing rhubarbs involving managers such as Earl Weaver, Leo Durocher, and Billy Martin.  Imagine if this rule had been in effect, say, during the first game of the 1955 World Series when Jackie Robinson stole home. Maybe Yogi was right. Maybe it was the wrong call. But so what? It’s so much better this way.

Michael can be reached at michael@zestoforange.com.

 

A Husband/Father/Ballplayer Gets It Right

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

By Bob Gaydos

Victoria and Daniel Murphy, proud new parents

Victoria and Daniel Murphy, proud new parents

Witnessing the births of my two sons were moving experiences for me. I was a grab bag of emotions, equipped with a camera. Anxiety, impatience, excitement, irritability, awe, relief, exhilaration and happiness played tag at different times in my head. In the end, gratitude won out.

It still does. I like being a father. I love my two sons and I am proud of them. Witnessing their entrances into the world was, for me, the right way to begin our lifelong relationships. I think being there is important. Yes, their mother did the hard work, but I never felt my presence at their births was pro forma. You know, show up, look concerned, puff your chest out, then go hand out cigars and leave mother and child alone. Old-school fathering.

It’s not me.

Daniel Murphy apparently isn’t an old-school father either. Murphy plays second base for the New York Mets. He’s an average second baseman, but one of the best hitters on the team. Instead of being with the team for Opening Day, Murphy, 29, took three days of paternity leave allowed major league ballplayers to be with his wife, Victoria, when she gave birth to their first child, Noah.

For this, he was assaulted with a flood of criticism from — not teammates, not fans, not baseball officials — but by three windbags on WFAN Radio and one on Fox News. They said Murphy should have checked in to see his first child born, then rushed to be back with his team. One day off tops, they said. None of this three-day paternity leave nonsense.

Because, of course, missing a couple of games out of 162 is an act of disloyalty or lack of work ethic. Unmanly even. C’mon, Murph, hire a nanny, they said. Where are your priorities? You should be fielding ground balls, never mind being by your wife’s side for the first three days of this exciting new chapter of your lives. This is stupid personified.

For the record, Murphy appears to be doing just fine in the stereotypical, outdated, macho, male-providing-for-the-family role that seems to underlie much of this criticism. He’s getting paid $5.7 million this year by the Mets, which means, as one of his critics suggested, he could hire 20 nannies if he wanted to. The thing is, he apparently doesn’t want to. He preferred to be at the hospital when his son woke up crying.

“We had our first panic session,” Murphy recalls. “It was dark. She tried to change a diaper, couldn’t do it. I came in. It was just the three of us, 3 o’clock in the morning, all freaking out. He was the only one screaming. I wanted to.”

That’s a memory he and his wife will always have and some day share with Noah. Nothing unmanly about it.

But here’s what Mike Francesa, the big name in WFAN Radio’s lineup of sports personalities, had to say about Murphy’s decision: “I don’t know why you need three days off, I’m going to be honest. You see the birth and you get back. What do you do in the first couple days? Maybe you take care of the other kids. Well, you gotta have someone to do that if you’re a Major League Baseball player. I’m sorry, but you do … Your wife doesn’t need your help the first couple days, you know that.”

There’s more: “One day, I understand. Go see the baby be born and come back. You’re a Major League Baseball player, you can hire a nurse to take care of the baby if your wife needs help … What are you gonna do? Are you gonna sit there and look at your wife in the hospital bed for two days?”

Well, at least we know what Francesa did when his son was born. Wonder what his wife thought about that.

Boomer Esiason, who also hosts a show on WFAN, went so far as to suggest that Murphy should have told his wife to have a Caesarean section before the season started so he wouldn’t have to miss Opening Day. After all, the former pro football quarterback said, baseball pays Murphy well, so he should make baseball his priority. (Note: Victoria Murphy, in fact, gave birth via Caesarean section and Esiason apologized a day later.)

Esiason’s partner on the morning radio talk show, Craig Carton, was his usual crass self: “You get your ass back to your team and you play baseball … there’s nothing you can do; you’re not breastfeeding the kid.”

I stopped listening to WFAN’s morning show years ago when Carton was teamed with Esiason because I thought Carton was the most misogynistic, immature excuse for a radio sports host I had ever heard. He was insulting, crude, sexist, arrogant and not especially knowledgeable about sports either. This incident only solidifies my opinion and I think he continues to be an embarrassment for WFAN, but maybe his bosses don’t care.

Let’s not let Fox News host Gregg Jarrett of the hook. Here’s what he had to say about Murphy’s paternity leave. “He’s rich. He could have like 20 nannies taking care of his tired wife, and he’s got to take off two days? It’s absurd. It’s preposterous.”

No, Gregg, it’s about being a father first, not a baseball player. Let’s talk about priorities. Imagine this scenario: It’s Noah’s 20th birthday. Mom is recalling that second day in the hospital when, all of a sudden, the infant’s temperature started rising. Nurses were rushing around and calling for a doctor. She was trying to stay calm, she says, but was really scared to death. “What about you, Dad,” asks Noah. “I was grounding into a double play in Queens,” he replies.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen. Instead, Murphy was there to share the first diaper-changing “emergency” with Victoria.

Not everyone thought Murphy did the wrong thing. Mets fans, his manager and teammates all supported Murphy’s decision to take the full paternity leave. Major League Baseball, in fact, is among the few employers in the United States that allow paid paternity leave — a fact that begs changing — and about 100 ballplayers have reportedly taken advantage of it since their union got it written into their contract three years ago.

It makes sense. Baseball players are undeniably well paid. But they are also away from their families for much of the time for eight months in the year. Half of their games are played away from home. Three days out of a 162-game season is a pittance. And for Murphy to be criticized for missing games is absurd since he played in 161 of the Mets’ 162 games last year, often with injuries. He’s what they call a “gamer.”

(In my case, paternity leave was not available, but I had an understanding boss who let me spend as much time as needed with my sons and their mother. Besides, my work was a 10-minute drive from home; Murphy’s son was born in Florida and the Mets were playing in New York. A tough commute.)

Taken aback by the harsh criticism, Murphy described his decision simply: “We felt the best thing for our family was for me to stay.” That says it all.

While Murphy was being criticized for wanting to be with his wife in the first three days of their son’s life, other ballplayers who had taken performance enhancing drugs — cheated — were being greeted back from their 50-game suspensions. Pro football and basketball players continue to be arrested for assaulting their wives or girlfriends. The New York Jets recently signed quarterback Michael Vick, who served time in prison for running a dog-fighting enterprise.

These are the role models professional sports have offered to today’s youth for much too long. Rich, macho, spoiled, selfish, arrogant, self-centered, young men.

Murphy returned to the Mets after three days with his wife and son, was cheered by fans and singled in his first at bat. He’ll be able to tell Noah that story some day. Way to go, Murph.

bobgaydos@zestoforange.com

 

The Joy of Baseball in Spring

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

By Gretchen Gibbs

Well, the baseball season has opened, and already on Thursday the Mets (the team I root for) were behind by two games in the NL East standings. The Yankees were playing .500 ball and were tied for first place in the AL East with Tampa Bay and Toronto. It seems a good time to reflect on my recent baseball experience.

I’ve always wanted to attend spring training, but this was the first year I managed it. I would have gone to Port St. Lucie, where the Mets train, but I have a sister in the Clearwater/Tampa/St. Pete area, and I wanted to see her, too. My sister’s condo turned out to be five minutes from the Phillies training site in Clearwater, and I saw two games there, one against the Braves and one with the Yankees. I also drove five miles to Dunedin to see the Toronto Blue Jays camp, and watched them play the Tampa Bay Rays.

The thing I realized about spring training is that it doesn’t matter who wins.

Nobody really cares. Not the players, not the managers, not even the spectators. Tie games are usually ended after nine innings. And when you take away the tension about who’s ahead, something else emerges. It’s a relaxed camaraderie in the stands. More attention is paid to the sparkling plays – the incredible catches against the wall, the diving catches in the infield, the home run hit over the wall and onto the berm where young children are picnicking with their parents.

There is the smell of buttered popcorn and beer and hotdogs. There is a certain background crowd noise at a baseball stadium that I haven’t heard elsewhere. It’s kind of a steady hum, a soothing “white noise.” And the vast stretches of green, now Astro Turf even in Florida, and speaking, “summer, summer, summer.” It was March but in Florida it was already summer. Spring training is quintessential summer.

I saw a few things I’d never seen before. For example, just as at big league ballparks, the walls of the stadium are padded panels that players can bang against without hurting themselves too much. In one game, a batter hit the ball sharply to the wall, and it disappeared. Nobody could figure out what happened. The two closest fielders were scratching their heads and there was muttering in the stands. It turned out the ball found a path between the panels, never to be recovered. They played it as a ground-rule double.

I loved the Phillie Phanatic and wished the Mets had a decent mascot. The Fanatic goes around the field and stirs up the fans with his dancing and good-natured taunting of the opposition players. Mets fans and Phillies fans generally don’t like each other, and it was instructive to sit with a bunch of folks from Philadelphia and see how their feelings about baseball were just like mine.

I liked the experience of seeing a game with a Canadian team in Florida. At the stadium in Dunedin, they sang “O Canada” at the start of the game. The vendors ply you with Labatt instead of Bud. The crowds were full of folks from Toronto and Montreal and Vancouver, all willing to tell you their winter stories.

I would happily replace the regular season with six months of spring training. Nobody talked about drugs or salaries or trades or whether the franchise will survive.

It was just a game. As Roger Angell said, “The Summer Game.”

 

 

Lesser Lights

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

By Gretchen Gibbs

Ralph Kiner

Ralph Kiner

In the last few days, the Times has announced the deaths of two of my favorite public figures, Ralph Kiner, the baseball legend and long-time announcer for the New York Mets, and Maxine Kumin, Pulitzer Prize winner for her wonderful poems and the equivalent of poet laureate before we had an official designation. If you think this an odd conjunction of public figures for me to be mourning, keep in mind that Kumin was an ardent Red Sox fan, and Kiner had a relationship with Janet Leigh. People resist pigeon holing.

Did they have anything in common? For all their fame, both Kiner and Kumin received less acclaim than they deserved. Kiner was described in the Times as “vastly undersung.” He had one of the most impressive home run records in the history of the sport, but because he played for the Pittsburgh Pirates, perpetually at the bottom of the standings, he wasn’t much noticed. He became an announcer for the Mets from the beginning of their franchise in 1962, because, as quoted in the Times obit, he “had a lot of experience with losing.”

In 1972, I was ill for an entire summer, not in pain, but with nothing to do but lie in bed and watch television. Daytime television in that era was six or seven channels of soap operas, with a little baseball thrown in. In those days there were many more afternoon games than there are today, and I became a Mets fan. Ralph Kiner, with Bob Murphy, and Lindsey Nelson of the florid sports coats educated me and turned me on to the glories of the sport.

Kiner, in spite of a speech problem brought on by Bell’s palsy, still announced once in a while this last season, and his comments were always intelligent and generous. I never heard him make a mean remark about anyone, regardless of their team.

Maxine Kumin certainly achieved fame as a poet, but she always existed in the shadow of her friend, Anne Sexton. Even the obituary in the Times devotes several paragraphs to Sexton. She was a gifted poet who, like Sylvia Plath, committed suicide after years of struggling with the impulse.

Maxine Kumin

Maxine Kumin

The two friends had an open phone line between their houses. Sexton is described, by her daughter and many others, as self-centered, narcissistic and demanding. I can’t imagine a more difficult friend.

I discovered Kumin’s poems in the New Yorker in the 70s, and was pleased to find a great poet of the everyday, who was not suicidal or difficult. “I was not influenced by women writing poetry,” Kumin is quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle. “There weren’t any women to admire.” She herself became the model for many women, including me, who aspired to write.

What is to be concluded? There should be bridges to rename, but that will not happen. I’m sure that some portion of CitiField will be named Kiner’s Korner, and I’m sure there will be a Maxine Kumin prize in the literary world. Let us just remember that success does not always come with a lot of hoopla.

Mariano Rivera Saves the Night (for Me)

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

By Bob Gaydos

Mariano Rivera waves to crowd at All-Star Game.

Mariano Rivera waves to crowd at All-Star Game.

I started the practice, which soon became a habit, in my early teens. When I picked up the morning paper (my mother religiously bought four or five papers daily) I always turned to the back page first, the sports page of one of New York city’s two tabloids, the Daily News and the Mirror.

At first, this was because that’s where my interests were. As I grew older, it was because I found it to be a gentler way, if you will, to enter into the daily fray. It was sports, after all, fun and games. Nothing life and death or depressing there. For some time, I felt guilty about this habit, feeling I should be paying attention to the front of the paper and all the “important” news. The bad news. The annoying news. The depressing news. The infuriating news. But then I found out that other seemingly bright, responsible people started their daily newspaper the same way — on the sports page. So I stopped beating myself up over it.

There’s no back page where I get much of my news today, on the Internet, but Tuesday night I found myself turning figuratively to the back page of Facebook. The social media site’s front pages, if you will, screamed with anger, hatred, bigotry and ignorance prompted by the not guilty verdict on George Zimmerman. Then there was Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, people shooting people everywhere, bees still in a death spiral, people being denied food stamps while millionaire farmers got subsidies, American citizens being spied on by their government, which is owned by a small group of very rich people, children and animals being abused, politicians arguing about abortion and sex instead of creating jobs, Brits still wondering how horse meat got in their hamburgers, chemical companies controlling our food supply, and the Republican Party solidifying its identity as the racist reaction to the nation’s first black president.

In exhaustion, I turned to sports, to baseball’s All Star Game. To Mariano Rivera, an oasis of inspiration, reassurance and dignity in a world gone seemingly mad for the moment.

Dignity is not a word often used in connection with sports figures these days, what with steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs eroding trust in the athletes and alcohol and drug-connected behavior making respect difficult to bestow.

But Rivera, “Mo” to legions of spoiled Yankee fans, has always been the model of dignified behavior. No hint of cheating. No scandal. No bad-mouthing opponents. Just consistent excellence and humility.

That he also turned out to be the best ever at what he does on a baseball field, makes him all the more special. If you’re a front-of-the-paper reader, Rivera is a “closer,” the pitcher brought in at the end of a game your team is winning, to shut down the other team, lest it have any ideas about rallying to win. Over the years, the mere sound of Metallica‘s “Enter Sandman” playing on the Yankee Stadium public address system and the sight of Rivera jogging in from the bullpen, became enough to silence opponents’ bats before he threw a pitch. No one has saved more games than the slender Panamanian and Tuesday night he appeared in Major League Baseball’s All Star Game for the last time.

This is Rivera’s farewell tour year. He is retiring at age 43 with more saves than anyone else. He has been given warm welcomes, been treated with admiration and respect, in every visiting team’s ballpark on the Yankees’ last visit. He has also asked to have an informal meeting with employees of each team on his last visit — to thank them for what they do. Ushers, security guards, grounds crew members, cleaning crew members, office workers have had a chance to chat with the Yankees’ new goodwill ambassador.  At the All Star game being played in the new stadium of the New York Mets, the Yankees’ crosstown rival, Rivera received a standing ovation from every fan and all-star in attendance. It lasted 90 seconds and the rest of his team did not take the field in the eighth inning until the ovation was over, leaving him alone on the pitcher’s mound to soak up the love. Then he retired the three batters he faced and his work was done.

The official “save” would go to Joe Nathan, who pitched the ninth inning, but Mo saved the night for me on Facebook. It’s not that I ignore the other stuff, the issues and causes and injustices of the world. In fact, it’s what I usually write about. I have had a career, in fact, writing about man’s incredible capacity for stupidity and cruelty. But I have always appreciated a standing ovation for a Pavarotti, a Perlman, a Fonteyn, a Streep. The best of the best.

Sports figures used to be looked upon as role models, people you could point out to your children and say, “That’s the way to behave.’’ Those role models are hard to come by today. Ironically, Rivera has had a teammate throughout his career who also fills the bill, Derek Jeter. They have spoiled Yankee fans for a long time and when they finally go, both will be missed.

But Tuesday was Rivera’s night, in Queens and on Facebook, and for that, I am grateful. I will return soon enough to writing about greed, arrogance, ignorance and bigotry and the need to fight against all of it, but for one night it was a relief to witness excellence, elegance, admiration, dignity and mutual respect. Thanks for the save, Mo.

bob@zestoforange.com

 

In Covering Mets, the Times Drops Ball

Friday, July 12th, 2013

 By Michael Kaufman

I’ve known for a long time that The New York Times often falls short of its boastful claim to provide readers with “all the news that’s fit to print.” The Times has dropped the ball on any number of important issues over the years, including such weighty issues as the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But it has also dropped the ball on less weighty, but nonetheless irksome, matters, exemplified by its biased coverage of New York’s two major league baseball teams. And frankly, I’m sick of it.

Wednesday afternoon the Mets completed a three-game sweep of the San Francisco Giants, defending World Series champions and a contender for first place in the National League West. It was the 16th win in the last 25 games for the Mets and was especially noteworthy for the outstanding pitching of rookie right-handed hurler Zack Wheeler. Marlon Byrd, who hit a grand-slam home run in Tuesday’s game, hit a two-run homer Wednesday. The 35-year-old veteran outfielder has been a key contributor to the recent success of the team, with his glove and fine throwing arm as well the bat.

Another veteran, Omar Quintanilla, has been making spectacular plays at shortstop since taking over for the injured Ruben Tejada, and has also delivered a number of clutch hits with men on base (though none Wednesday). So what was the headline Thursday in the Times article about Wednesday’s game? “In Managing Harvey’s Innings, the Mets Make an All-Star Allowance.” Huh? The first 16 paragraphs of the article dealt with a topic that had already been widely discussed for days, namely that the Mets planned to rest their All-Star pitcher Matt Harvey during the final games before the All-Star Game, presumably in the hope that he would be named starting pitcher for the National League in the game Tuesday night at Citi Field. This is certainly an interesting topic and I have my own thoughts about it too—but it is not what I want to be reading about for the first 16 paragraphs of an article about Wednesday’s game by beat writer Andrew Keh. Even the Times Herald-Record, which hasn’t assigned beat writers to the Yankees and Mets for years (and which also has a long history of favoring the Yankees) got it right in their headline above a workmanlike article produced by the Associated Press: “Clean sweep for Zack, Mets, Wheeler mows down Giants.”

The Times’ bias against the Mets has been blatant all year.  Both the Yankees and Mets opened the season at home April 1. The Mets won their game against the San Diego Padres by a score of 11-2.  The Yankees lost to the Boston Red Sox, 8-2. The next day, the Times article about the Mets game was about a third the size of the article about the Yankees game. And, as noted in an email from Tad Richards (poet, director of Opus 40, and Mets fan) “It’s mostly about what a terrible team the Mets are and they can’t expect to have too many days like this. Instead of writing about what Cowgill and Byrd did in the game, they wrote about what they did last year. And, well, I could go on and on, but ‘Bleep the New York Times’ covers it.” (Only he didn’t say “Bleep.”)

Tad’s email, sent to a small cadre of Mets fans scattered across the country, drew unanimous agreement. After the Mets swept a four-game series from the Yankees in May, it was Tad’s daughter Caitlin who wrote, “Why can’t we get any respect?  We just swept the Yankees for the first time in history, we played four great games, yet the Times articles are making excuses for the Yankees rather than applauding the achievements of the Mets. They were amazing. Let them have their moment.” Peter Jones agreed, noting, “The Times treats the Mets as if they were from Boston.” To which Tad added, “More like as if they were from Poughkeepsie.”

But I think Jon Richards, Tad’s brother (film critic, cartoonist for Huffington Post, and co-author of Nick and Jake) who may have said it best: “The Times sees the Yankees as the pinstriped Lords of Wall Street, and the Mets as the poor outerborough slobs who lose their house even if they’re paid up on their mortgage.”

Michael can be reached at michael@zestoforange.com.

 

How Can Anyone Be a Mets Fan?

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

Fred Wilpon

Fred Wilpon, the man who messed up the Mets

By Bob Gaydos

OK, I have avoided writing about this topic for years because I didn’t want to have to deal with the whining, delusional comments that pass for rational argument among Mets fans. But honestly, I don’t get it. I don’t get how anyone can be a Mets fan.

As far as I can tell, being a Mets fan these days consists of being willing to root for a boring team made up of mediocre major leaguers, rookies who never ripen, and established major league stars who are always hurt. But more than that, it’s fans caring about some of these mediocre players and talking about them as if they are ever going to be good major league players that baffles me. You know, like Joe Beningo and his kid sidekick, Evan, on WFAN or that noontime kid on ESPN Radio.

They go on and on about a team that has tanked at the end of the year for a decade, whose legitimate star pitcher may not pitch this year, whose star outfielder and shortstop have been hurt more than they’ve been healthy for two years and whose star third baseman, who literally broke his back playing for them, has spells where he literally couldn’t hit the ball if it was the size of a grapefruit.

All the rest is gruel. Plus, the owner of the team, Fred Wilpon, lost hundreds of millions of dollars in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme and can’t spend money to get better players, so he’s going to have to trade his few blue chips for some young, potential stars. And we know how well that’s worked out recently. Wilpon has stayed quietly in the background most of the time, letting his general managers and managers talk about the team to the working press, which in the Mets’ case also contains a disproportionate quota of wanna-believers whose memories don’t go back past the 1990s.

But Wilpon sat down last month with a talented reporter from the New Yorker, a publication with no rooting interest save selling more magazines. The story that resulted told about Wilpon’s rags-to-riches story in real estate and his being snookered by Madoff. He and Madoff says that’s what happened; a trustee for other big losers say Wilpon knew what was going on. But that’s another story. Wilpon also made some comments in the New Yorker about his team and star players that has Mets nation in a tizzy. Here’s how it was reported in the Sporting News (also a non-rooting publication):

“The comments were made on April 20 while Wilpon watched a 4-3 loss to the Astros with the reporter, so don’t blame him for coming across more as fan than executive. Jose Reyes, whose contract is up after the season, had led off with a single and stolen second when Wilpon told the New Yorker, ‘He’s a racehorse. He thinks he’s going to get Carl Crawford money (a seven-year $142 million contract). He won’t get it.’

“When David Wright hit, Wilpon said: ‘A really good kid. A very good player. Not a superstar.’

“About Carlos Beltran, given a seven-year, $119 million deal by the Mets, Wilpon took a shot at himself as well as his player: ‘We had some schmuck in New York who paid him based on that one (2004 playoff) series. He’s 65 to 70 per cent of what he was.’

“Finally, the magazine sums up what Wilpon thought about the Mets at the time when Ike Davis stepped in. ‘Good hitter,’ Wilpon said. ‘(Cruddy) team-good hitter.’ ”

Only he didn’t say cruddy.

Now, any Mets fan who can utter the words Armando Benitez with a proper sneer, knows that Wilpon’s assessments are right on. But the whining is that he didn’t have to say it publicly. Oh, please. He’s owned the team for 30 years. He remembers when they were a star-studded, scrappy bunch of all-stars, even if many of the fans don’t. He also knows he hasn’t delivered that kind of team nearly as often as he should have, what with playing in the biggest market in the country and making tons of money because of it.

Wilpon and his baseball staff have let Mets fans down year after year by failing to draft or trade for good, never mind star, players, by running a wreck of a medical staff that has seen star after star go down year after year, passing it off as being “snake-bitten,” and by being unbelievably inept in public relations. (They made manager Willie Randolph fly to the West Coast so they could fire him in the middle of the night.)

Mets fan know that they have to trade Beltran for some young player(s). Ditto Reyes. Wilpon is trying to sell a huge hunk of the team just to keep operating, for Pete’s sake. And he was absolutely right about Wright. Nice kid. Trouble throwing to first base. The thing is, Mets fans know all this and jabber about it on talk radio for hours (or at least when Joe and Evan are on), but for some reason the guy who pays the players’ salaries is not supposed to talk about it.

His saying it publicly doesn’t change anything. They will play for their next big contracts, wherever they may be and fans will talk about Ike Davis as if he’s the second coming of Keith Hernandez. Keith’s in the TV booth now with Ron Darling, who may still be better than anyone in the Mets’ starting five.

I have digressed all over the place because, as I said, I don’t get it. Yes, of course, I’m a Yankee fan, and have been for about 60 years. Mets fans, I am told, hate the Yankees and Yankee fans. Yankee fans don’t care. We have enough to do wondering why Brett Gardner is still in the major leagues and when Derek Jeter (who was supposedly washed up two weeks go) will get his 3,000th hit.

Yankee fans are used to a team owner talking publicly about star players. No, it was not always useful, but George Steinbrenner also poured tens of millions of dollars back into his team every year to try to keep it a winner, or at the very least, fun to watch. Many Mets fans I know are still hung up on the Brooklyn Dodgers, who also lost to the Yankees a lot, but who at least were always fun to watch and had lots of star players. I think these older Mets fans think Yankee fans are condescending. I don’t think so. I think Yankee fans just really don’t care about the Mets because lately it’s the same old story — they can’t seem to get out of their own way. (Personally, I loved the ‘69 World Series and bringing Willie Mays back for a curtain call. In the ’86 World Series, I rooted for the Mets. Of course, they did beat the Boston Red Sox.)

I also think Mets fans think that the true test of a fan is whether he or she is willing to suffer stoically and endlessly through lean times with the team. Again, just listen to the radio shows. But the Yankees didn’t win much in the ‘60s or ‘80s. The thing is, they never stopped trying and they were hardly ever boring. They set the bar high and, yes, they paid well to reach it. They still do. That’s why Yankee fans get upset when the team doesn’t play up to expectations (like losing Friday to a Mets knuckleballer). It may be easier to be a Yankee fan than a Met fan, but it’s much harder to be a Yankee player than a Mets player. Because it’s what they’ve done, their fans expect the Yankees to win. Not always, but usually. There is nothing wrong with winning. It’s why they keep score.

* * *

OK, Mets fans, you get your say in the comment box below, or e-mail me. Why do you do what you do? Of course, any Yankee fan who wants to chime in is welcome as well.

bob@zestoforange.com