Archive for Uni Controversies

Marcus Down As Undecided

Marcus Stroman, who already made club history by becoming the team’s first pitcher to wear a single-digit uni number, will be making more news soon.

Stroman says will no longer wear the No. 7 he was issued upon his trade to the Mets from Toronto in July, saying that he didn’t feel right playing in the same uni as a childhood idol Jose Reyes.

Obviously we all want Stroman to wear what he’s most comfortable wearing but in the bigger picture I’m wondering whether this notion of respect has gone completely overboard. It has always seemed to me that you could argue just as persuasively that wearing the same number your idol did on the same field would be the ultimate way to pay respect, and that pointedly avoiding a number for that reason in particular, while admirable, is an awfully passive statement in practice.

I’m also left to wonder what this will mean to the newly respect-sensitive Mets and their plans to take an untold batch of jerseys out of circulation in coming years. This began only recently with the deserving but curious announcement they would hang up 36 next year. Who knows if the Mets stay on task with this, but you figure such an approach would have to include Ed Kranepool at some point, a different No. 7.

Until then though, you wonder if the club will now have the stones to issue anybody No. 7 as long as Stroman is on board. Did he inadvertently just mothball No. 7 teamwide? Let’s wait and see.

Let’s also wait and see what Stroman finally settles on. Will he continue to buck tradition and take a single digit? If so there’s but two choices and a similarly wobbly third: Zero is available now; 2 belongs to the free-agent-to-be-but-I’d-sure-love-to-be-back infielder Joe Panik; and then there’s 8, which has gone unissued now for 17 years (!!) as the Mets seemingly make up their minds on Gary Carter’s legacy (If you’re listening Mets, don’t do it. Name the St. Lucie minor league team the Kids instead. Give out a Gary Carter Award every year for the team’s best citizen. Don’t take out numbers for guys with 2 good years on the club and more concrete legacies elsewhere).

Stroman’s Toronto No. 6 belongs now to Jeff McNeil and Stroman said he wouldn’t ask for that. I’ll bet you a beer he’s the next 0.

 

 

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You Kooz, You Lose

The Mets do a lot of curious things, frequently for all the wrong reasons, but today’s out-of-the-blue announcement that they’re retiring No. 36 in honor of Jerry Koosman, 40 years after he left the team, is curiouser than most, and is sure to have consequences that’ll ripple through our uni-verse for some time.

Jeff Wilpon in an announcement today said the club’s Hall of Fame committee, whoever they are, made the recommendation, but appeared to acknowledge that taking uniforms out of circulation was primarily a thing the fans wanted to see and would became the way the Mets suddenly do things from now on, so it can expected they’ll cave to the even louder fan drumbeat and similarly take out the jerseys of Hernandez, Strawberry, Carter, Gooden, Wright, Kranepool and who knows how many more with similar honors in the years ahead.

I have nothing against Jerry Koosman, who was was my Mom’s favorite Met and compares favorably with lefties from other organizations who’ve had their numbers retired, like Ron Guidry, for example, but again it’s a head scratcher inasmuch I’ve received literally hundreds of emails and comments over the years about number retirement and none of them clamor for the Kooz.

Personally I’ve always been uneasy about the precedent of retiring numbers and find the “fans want it” defense weak. I’d prefer they re-issue the good ones. Mickey Callaway of all people talked about what an honor it was to have worn 36 but sitting there in his new number 26, also confessed he didn’t care what number he wore, as long as it didn’t belong to a player. On message as always!

Congrats Kooz. Goodbye 36.

 

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Chief Brodie Strikes Again

Oh, those unpredictable Mets.

Season-appropriate Mets jersey I spied at Citifield this past week.

Amid speculation that their disappointing season warranted a dramatic teardown that could include Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler and others, Brodie “Trade Tomorrow for Today” Van Wagenen instead pulled a surprise deal  for one of the other hot names on the starter front, Marcus Stroman of the Blue Jays.

The deal will cost the Mets yet another two prospects–promising starters Anthony Kay and Simeon Woods-Richardson–but in Stroman returns a Long Island native who’s a pretty darn good pitcher himself and is under team control for another couple years.

Presumably, there will be another shoe to drop here: He makes one of Wheeler, Syndergaard or Jason Vargas expendable, and Brodie–or his bosses–don’t appear to care too deeply for the assets acquired by his predecessor. The deal also comes at an interesting moment for the club, which lately looks at least a little bit more like the club that we thought might contend this season, though part of that has to do with some indifferent play from their opponents and whatever it is, it’s almost assuredly too late.

I in fact confess as a fan to have mentally packed it in for them last Wednesday, when their arrogant lack of preparation and propensity for making the same mistakes over and over again doomed them a loss with three Wild Card rivals in reach, but whackier things have happened. What if they only wind up trading Vargas? They’d have a good starter on the mound just about every day.

This Stroman fellow, you may know, is noted for the unusual No. 6 he wears on his Blue Jays duds. This he related, owes to his grandmother’s birthday (March 6) and portends a showdown with current occupant Jeff McNeil. The Mets have never had a single-digited pitcher, though positional players pitching (Desi Relaford in 8 and Todd Zeile in 9, also Jose Reyes in 7) have made appearances.

Will Stroman celebrate granny’s birthday a day later and take the vacant 7? Would he and McNeil make some kind of a side deal? Will 34 and 45 and 44 and 39 and 21 suddenly become available?

This is the Mets. They’ll do anything.

Update: Stroman has indicated, however cryptically, that he would wear No. 7.

 

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Debate 8

Should Jed Lowrie get No. 8?

Let the debate begin. The Mets surprised the market by adding the veteran infielder on a two-year contract. In addition to figuring out where he’ll fit on an infield with Amed Rosario, Todd Frazier, Robinson Cano, Jeff McNeil, JD Davis, Peter Alonso, Dominic Smith, Luis Guillorme, Gavin Cecchini and TJ Rivera, they need to give him a jersey.

Lowrie’s been around the league a little, most often wearing No. 8, but also appearing in No. 12 and 4. The Mets quietly removed 8 from the rotation in 2003, when Gary Carter was elected to the Hall of Fame. Though it’s never been officially expressed this way, I think the idea at that time was to hold out and see whether the Kid would “go into the Hall” as a Met. When he (rightly) was enshrined as an Expo, his health issues made the prospect of reissuing 8 distasteful and so in mothballs it has remained ever since.

I think it’s more likely we see another Met 8 than see the club retire the number, and if it’s what Lowrie wants I suppose I have no problem with it. As I’ve expressed here before, I’d prefer it were the Mets to judiciously reissue, give No. 8 to the next good young catcher, but simply to uphold a limbo ban seems like a dumb idea so if Jed wouldn’t prefer to retake No. 4, I say let him have it.

I mentioned JD Davis above but haven’t got to his signing yet here. He’s a right-handed hitting corner infielder who tore it up as an Astros prospect and seems as though he could at the least challenge TJ Rivera to a roster spot, or perhaps replace Todd Frazier. Or maybe even pitch mop-up relief as he’s said to have a big-league arm.

At any rate, it’s a curious deal given the Mets coughed up three decent but young prospects for Davis. Is Brodie Van Wagenen addressing the criticism the Mets’ system is too “bottom heavy” by rebalancing the system with “ready” prspects? Maybe. Is he ridding the system of the Alderson Regime’s prize project? Perhaps. Is he really going to do something different here and reel in Bryce Harper? Probably not.

Davis wore 28 in a brief run in Houston but 26 is his twitter handle and minor-league assignment. That number became available when the Mets dumped Kevin Plawecki on the Indians in exchange for a fringe starting pitcher prospect, Walker Lockett, and a minor league infielder called Sam Haggerty. Lockett never pitched in Cleveland but instead passed through on paper from San Diego, which traded him with the idea they were to lose him in the Rule 5 draft anyhow. Lockett appeared in four games with the Padres last summer wearing No. 62: He’s the Mets’ problem now.

So long to Plawecki a 1st round Alderson draft choice who like his mate Travis D’Arnaud, simply seemed too nice to make it as a real starting catcher in the league; a forced promotion due to injuries probably got his career off to the wrong start anyway, so good luck on the reset in Cleveland.

And bye-bye, David Wright! The Mets gussied it up with a fake promotion to a fake front office job they but released him just the same.

 

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Revisiting Kingman’s Revisiting

Got a message from longtime reader Dave who asked in so many words, “What was Dave Kingman doing wearing No. 5 during spring training in 1981?”

It’s a good question and one we have addressed before here, but I should mention a few things about that: One, we did it 10 years ago. Did you know this site is nearing its 20th birthday? I still run it, still make the rules, and there’s none against reinvestigations. I actually like taking advantage of the archives (check out the impressive dropdown on the left!) and don’t do it enough. Ask me anything!

Two, what we hashed out was mostly in the comments section, which has been cut and pasted from a couple generations of the web site since and is kind of hard to find or read.

Three, my access to historical data has gotten much better since then as evidenced by what I was able to find looking it over again:

So that’s Dave upon his arrival at St. Petersburg on March 3, 1981, days after the Mets completed a trade bringing Kong back to blue-and-orange for the first time since departing in the Midnight Massacre of 1977. There’s great stuff in there about his handing out monogrammed pens to writers as a signal of his willingness to rehab his image as a reporter-hater. In five years Kingman would be outed for sending a gift-wrapped live rat to Susan Fornoff, who then covered Kingman’s Oakland A’s for the Sacramento Bee. Nothing changes, even when it does, including the uni number!

Anyway, Kingman ironically arrived in a trade for Steve Henderson, who turned out to be the best of all we’d gathered on that bloody 1977 night, if you don’t count Bobby Valentine’s managerial career (Valentine as you know arrived for Kingman along with Paul Siebert; Henderson came in the booty for Tom Seaver). But yep, looks like they initially just did a straight-up Uni Swap, Hendoo for Kong.

The Mets between Kingman’s departure and rearrival had issued 26 to pitchers Mike Bruhert (1978); Ray Burris (1979) and in late 1980, rookie callup Scott Holman. Holman was back training with the Mets when the Kingman deal was done.

Holman was considered something of a hot pitching prospect at the time but was already battling shoulder problems that would plague him for the duration of his career. He was also only 22 and a longshot to make the big club; he’d be reassigned to minor league camp March 25 and spend the entire 1981 season with AA Jackson, freeing up 26 for the Konger before regular-season play began.

Holman eventually made it back to New York in September of 1982, rejoining Kingman and the Mets wearing No. 28, which he also wore through 1983 with the big club. Holman ran out of minor-league options by 1984 but re-signed with AAA Tidewater; that freed up 28, ironically enough, for Bobby Valentine, who had retired but was rejoining the Mets as a third-base coach. Holman signed a minor-league deal with the Cubs in 1985 and spent the year in Class AAA Iowa. But here’s another new thing I learned researching this: Some Mets fans spied a job-seeking Holman working out with the 1986 Mets during spring training, saying he’s briefly visible in a highlight VHS tape I have but cannot play, perhaps that’s out there on YouTube somewhere, if you see it and can identify what Holman’s wearing, let me know!

Kingman would be released by the Mets following the 1983 season and was off to his rat-infested tenure in Oakland.

And that… is the rest of the story.

 

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Who Wants Fish Sticks?

The Mets have had some uniform mishaps over the years, but nothing compared to the infamous Islanders rebrand of 1995, when the struggling hockey club abruptly cast away its classic logo and colors and reeled in an ocean motif highlighted by a cartoon fisherman crest.

Though meant to evoke local pride (and also, sell more merchandise) the move instead flopped with the team’s own fans and players; generated humiliating derision from opponents; and eventually, even the cash registers stopped ringing. The story of the worst branding initiative in sports history—and the associated leadership crises and on-ice failures that enabled and accompanied it—is deeply examined and entertainingly told in a terrific new book from Nick Hirshon called WE WANT FISH STICKS.

To the extent MBTN is focused on the branding message sent by blue-and-orange wearing athletes in New York, I caught up with Nick for the following (lightly edited) Q&A. His book is available at the usual outlets.

 

Jon Springer: Can you take me through the origins of this story?

Nick Hirshon: I’ve been interested in the Fisherman logo for years. When I was an undergrad at St. John’s University [2003-06] one of my classes was sports management and it was taught by a former general manager of the Nassau Coliseum. And he went into detail one day about the Fisherman logo and said he knew a guy at the Islanders who decided to go with the Fisherman logo and that stoked my interest in it.

As an Islanders fan myself, I’d been to so many games and seen the jersey on fans in the stands. And I became more curious wondering what the story was. In 2006, I wrote a story for the Hockey News about the history of the fisherman logo and I spoke to my former professor; I spoke to a guy named Pat Calabria who was an Islanders vice president at the time they changed to the Fisherman logo and is generally associated with making the decision, even though he alone did not make it.

Fast forward to 2013, and for my PhD at Ohio University we needed to write some sort of dissertation that was to be our signature project. I wanted to do something about the Islanders because they were my favorite team and I wanted something I’d be passionate about. But what could I go for here? What in their history hadn’t been told yet? A lot of people are interested in the Stanley Cups, but I wasn’t sure how interesting that is, besides the fact they won a lot, so I thought there’s got to be a more colorful story out there: What about the Fisherman logo?

You’re taught in these historiography courses that history starts about 20 years ago. The Fisherman logo had been unveiled about 20 years before I embarked on this project: If it was something more recent, people might not be willing to talk about it, and we wouldn’t know how it turned out, or how it would be remembered. Once 20 years have passed, you have a good idea of the legacy. And for me it was good that it was just 20 years ago. So a lot of the people who were involved in the rebranding process were still alive, and they also were somewhat removed from the project, so they were willing to talk more freely and maybe be willing to criticize the people involved, whether it was the designers or Mike Milbury, the coach and general manager at the time.

 

Do you like the Fisherman jersey?

Kirk Muller wanted no part of it.

I never saw the problem with the logo itself. I do understand it looks a lot like the Gorton’s fisherman. It reminds me, and a lot of Islanders fans, of the 1990s. It has that look of the San Jose Sharks and Mighty Ducks logos that came out right before, and inspired the Fisherman logo. I’m drawn to the curiosity of it. This was a logo we can’t talk about, it is something that was around only for a couple of years and it was part of history that got whitewashed.

I also like the idea of what it represents. The Islanders don’t play in New York City: They wanted to differentiate themselves from the Rangers. There are distinctions between Long Island and New York. The ocean, the beach, the maritime culture, and the fishermen. And I like that with this jersey they were trying to do all of that. It wasn’t just the logo; it was the wavy numbers on the back that were supposed to represent ocean waves, and the lighthouse logo on the shoulder, which is one of my favorite logos ever. I wish they had made that the main crest.

 

I’m in agreement with you there. The Fisherman jersey in my mind has crossed the line in a way similar to the Mercury Mets jersey: The fans hated it so much they eventually became fond of it. It was so bad it was good.

Howie was there for both the reviled Islanders rebrand and the Mets one-night relocation to planet Mercury

There’s that same quality. Even if it was just one game, people remember the Mercury Mets because it was so bizarre. It reminds me of 1999, when I became a Mets fan, and that was a really great season for them. I vividly remember the Mercury Mets jersey because it was part of my initiation to Mets fandom. I vaguely remember Orel Hershiser wearing it. That’s the fondness people have for these things. If you look at it aesthetically, maybe if you’re a top-notch designer, you think this is silly. But if you’re going for a nostalgic point of a view and an emotional point of view, where I think fans are coming from, then you are going to be kinder to something that might not have been a Versace or Armani quality design.

The wavy numbers on the back of the jersey gave it an interesting look, but it interfered with the purpose of the jersey number which is to allow fans to identify players at a glance. Do you give much thought to the jersey numbers themselves? I thought it was interesting earlier this year when Lou Lamoriello unilaterally changed the jersey numbers of five or six players.

Lamoriello is known for wanting his players to wear low numbers. Josh Ho-Sang is one of the Islanders’ top players and had to change his number from 66 to 26. That caused a stir among a number of Islanders fans. As far as the waviness of the numbers on the jerseys, I didn’t give it a lot of thought. It just became another way for fans to mock the jersey. They could say, “it makes us seasick.”

“Seasick” numerology

It made for a disjointed look depending on what number you wore. If you have a number 1 and its bunched together in a wave, maybe it doesn’t look so bad, but if was a 6 or 9 or a number with contours to it, it made it weird on the back of the jersey.

To me I just embrace it all as part of this experiment. It was different. In my time as an Islander fan they’ve never done anything different with their main logo. There’s been some background changes and done different things with stripes, but they really haven’t done anything bold. And I like that with this jersey, they were really trying something different. OK, it failed, but I want to give them a little bit of credit for trying something. And I hate that because of this flop, the Islanders won’t do anything dramatic anymore. And it seems like they’re stuck with that one logo, and even their quote-unquote secondary logo is just pulling the ‘NY’ off the original logo.

 

Secondary logo that could have been primary

To me, the lighthouse is much more of Long Island type design. Whereas the Fisherman is something you might associate with parts of the Island, everybody on Long Island can relate to a lighthouse. Everybody goes to the beach and has seen them.

The Q&A you do with the designer in the book was interesting. He made a point that he doesn’t really like the classic Islanders logo.

I was startled by that, because for me and most Islander fans, that’s something sacrilegious. That’s what they wore when they won the Stanley Cup! That’s the logo that’s been there since the birth of franchise and I feel a real identity with it. I was an Islanders fan in Rangers country and had them knock me for it, so I became very loyal to it. I view it as a depiction of my identity as a fan.

But he said he didn’t like the lettering and other stuff, and the whole thing was a 1970s look. And the logo was done on short notice. Depending on which story you believe, it was about three days. Someone was told on a Thursday night we need to have a logo by Monday morning for a press conference. It was done before this modern era with focus groups and testing.

It goes to a larger point whether you make fun of the fisherman or the Nyisles the mascot or other aspects of the rebrand, it’s really all subjective. We might say this logo is clearly better, but is it really? The people I spoke to for the book who were pure design people all said the fisherman logo was better than the original Islanders logo. It’s all the memories coming to it though. It’s not all design 101.

Pretty obvious. Source.

It’s fairly obvious to me how closely the Islanders logo adheres to the same ideals as the Mets logo. It’s a circle, it’s the same colors, it’s representative of the area, whether its bridges or buildings or the island itself. One’s got baseball stitches and the other’s got a hockey stick.

So how did you get the book sold? One of the truisms in sports publishing is that books about teams that struggle don’t do all that well.

Hockey books in general don’t sell well, unless its riding a famous player. Wayne Gretzky can sell his book, but will Nick Hirshon sell his? Part of my feeling was this was a very colorful, interesting story. So my idea was let’s not just sell it to this small niche of Islanders fans who remember 1995 but I think you can be someone who never went to an Islanders game and still appreciate the zany stories about Mike Milbury spitting at his players and John Spano coming in posing as a billionaire who will pump all this money into the team but it turns out he’s a con artist. You don’t need to be a true hockey fan to appreciate that.

I tried to make that a part of a part of the pitch from the beginning, so it wasn’t like, I’m a guy from Long Island writing about my favorite team. What the publishers kept asking was, “What’s significant about this?’” So I really had to establish why I thought this was the worst sports branding failure ever, and if you look at everything, they went through more in 28 months than most teams go through in 28 years. I also think University presses in particular are kinder to sports titles that might not do very well in terms of sales, but are stories worth telling and are worth getting out in the market.

 

As someone who was not very well versed in Islander history I was shocked just based on your descriptions of Milbury that he lasted even one year. And it’s easy to make the connection that the wackiness of the branding initiative is a match for the dysfunction in the front office and ownership.

Milbury. Source

Milbury didn’t leave the team until 2007. And that’s kind of insane when you consider the comments he made to the media, the terrible trades, clashing with so many players he sent away or disparaged. It’s unbelievable that someone like that could last so long especially in the New York market which is associated with high rates of turnover.

I think it was a combination of factors. Part of it was being out on Long Island and away from the New York spotlight. A general manager of the Mets or the Yankees couldn’t get away with what Milbury did. It was also before social media where people couldn’t band together to build a movement like they can today on Twitter and Facebook. Also, the ownership kept changing so there was no way to hold someone like Mike Milbury to account. Every new owner felt obligated to give him a chance. He was a hockey lifer and he was very charming and persuasive.

 

Were you able to reach Milbury as part of your research?

I tried, but I got a no from NBC Sports, where he’s an analyst now. I tried every single person I could who was involved in the rebrand: every player, the coaches, broadcasters and designers.  I feel like you owe it to people who might not be viewed positively in your work to have a say.  And that went for everyone, John Spano, and Kirk Muller, who was traded to the Islanders but didn’t report. But everything I say about them were from primary sources—Newsday, the New York Times.

 

I heard you mention casually you’d be interested in a Mets book. What would you write about?

I don’t know. I’m still trying to get the promotion for this one done. And doing the book is so much work, so much intellectual energy doing the research and the interviews. It’s all very daunting. I might be interested in the 1999 season which was my first as a Mets fan, but there’s probably people who are out there who know this more than me or are already working on it.

 

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Wilson, Dilson, Schmillson

Word came in this evening the Mets have come to an agreement with chubby veteran free-agent catcher Wilson Ramos, a longtime Met nemesis who if he can 1) pass the physical and, 2) stay on the field, and, 3) slow the aging process typical for fat catchers in their 30s, just might improve the Mets’ stagnant backstop situation.

It’s only a two-year deal so what’s not to like, especially if it cools Brodie’s jets of entertaining three-way swaps with the Yankees involving Nimmo, Rosario, Conforto or Syndergaard, so it has a mild stamp of approval from us for now.

What number will he wear? Ramos is a longtime No. 40 and old enough to dictate it, so I can see Jason Vargas changing his shirt. Vargas in fact has already changed once; you might recall before being thrown in in the idiotic JJ Putz deal of 2008-09, Vargas spent a brief period with the Mets wearing 43. That figure was worn last season by ineffective reliever Jamie Callahan, whose season ended with shoulder surgery. He refused to be outrighted to the new Syracuse club and so became a free agent. This is a long way of saying 43 would be available should Vargas want to switch back.

And in the event the Mets actually care what Vargas wants, Ramos could wear No. 4, sadly surrendered by the nontendered Wilmer Flores. Let’s hope Wilmer returns as a coach or something someday. I get that his time was likely up given injuries and a little less production than would behoove an arbitration-eligible ballplayer, but as far as I’m concerned, he doesn’t have to buy a drink among Mets fans for the rest of his life, and that’s something.

I didn’t update you all on this but of course 27 will available for Juerys Familia next season. I’m no fan of blowing cash on relief pitchers, but if you’re going to you may as well get a guy whose stuff you know and mostly trust and whom the fans admire. Familia ought to make a good team with Edwin Diaz especially if they’re utilized effectively, but count on the Mets to justify the strenuous Cano trade by carefully designating Diaz as the “9th inning guy.” Not said, if Diaz happens to screw the pooch or tear his UCL as acquired relievers with 100-mph heat have from time to time, it’s good to have a backup.

Speaking of reunions the Mets signed Dilson Herrera to a minor league deal. Perhaps if it all goes wrong this year they can trade him to Seattle for Jay Bruce.

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News to New York: Drop Dead

I’m sorry to have witnessed the decline of the New York Daily News, which has taken an economic beating, was sold on the cheap to even cheaper owners, who subsequently gutted the rest of the staff who hadn’t already been whacked, and now intends to exist as a virtual brand. Yeah, that’ll work.

July 23, 1964: The NL pennant race

A million years ago, I used to deliver the Daily News on my bicycle, and a million years before that, my dad contributed political and sports cartoons they published. Back then, the Snooze was considered a conservative counterbalance to the liberal New York Post, if you can believe that, but I don’t know if the News can even retain the gravitas to go toe-to-toe with a rival anymore, which is especially saddening because one of the things that made both papers great was the energy inherent in the battle, especially when it came to the back covers.

Before smart phone game apps ruined my life and I needed something to do on the subway, the Snooze was my go-to. I liked Jim Farber’s music columns, the fact that they had two columns every day on what was on local radio (another basically dead medium) and the grossly exaggerated but true-rung strain of New York populism that carried through its coverage, especially on stories like the Willie Randolph firing which generated a week of fabulously overblown “COWARDS IN THE NIGHT” headlines. The Post generally had the better sports columnists — I always preferred the smart and hustling Joel Sherman to the News’ Bill Madden — but News had the city’s best beat reporters until Adam Rubin gave it up.

And now, it’s nothing. The News’ recent whacking seems to have resulted in Mets’ beater Kristie Ackert moving over to cover the Yankees.

Anyway, RIP News. But leave it to MBTN readers to find a silver lining. I heard recently from Jason E. who noted that while the future is bleak, those who wish to sign in can now find a treasure trove of archived copy online (that’s how I discoverd my Dad’s cartoon above). He sent along the following clip, which might be the first article ever written about Mets uni numbers: January 14, 1962. Too bad Billy Loes never made the club, huh? Was a conflict between Cookie Lavagetto and Hobie Landrith the origin of Met coaches wearing numbers in the 50s? Check it out!

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Sellular Service

Asdrubal Cabrera, the rarest kind of Met free agent signing who turned out to be better than anyone bargained for, is off to the Phillies for a minor league pitcher. Oh yeah, and Juerys Familia has been traded to Oakland.

Sell, sell, sell.

For a guy I never really wanted to have on the team in the first place, and was certain would explode any second, Cabrera surprised me as much as any Mets player I can remember in recent times. I wonder if there’s time for Jerry Blevins to take back the No. 13 he surrendered to Cabrera upon his signing a few years back (Blevins as also testing free-agent waters at that time).

This may not matter in the end if any contenders can be convinced Blevins had anything left. That’s a guy they stuck with too long.

Meantime everyone’s all excited that Jeff McNeil is here finally but what the heck, 68? They had lots of time to think about this. Get the man a dignified number already, what is he a bullpen catcher? He’s an infielder! Give him No. 6! Give it up, Roessler! You’re interfering with history, man!

What else? Jason Vargas is back, Corey Oswalt is back down. That’s no bueno, and not really in line with the idea of the future teams that cough up their closer and best hitter in July are supposed to be doing. Austin Jackson was signed as a free agent, they gave him the same No. 16 that belonged to Kevin Kaczmarski earlier this year, and send Mat den Dekker down. It was a crime to see den Dekker in 23.

There have been an awful lot of Mets this year. The addition of Jackson (the 1,063rd Met of all time, doncha know) makes it 51 so far, and the trade deadline (Mesoraco, Blevins, Wheeler?) is still three days away. The team record of 54, set in 1967, is in real danger.

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Hey, Joe

Today my friend David passed along this photo on social media. It’s Joe Sambito pitching for the Mets, and he’s wearing No. 38.

This does not jibe with our records — and some others — listing Sambito having worn No. 35 for the entirety of his brief Mets career, which lasted a little more than six weeks in 1985.

Solving this mystery doesn’t appear to be too difficult, but I’m calling on the MBTN readership to pull out the magnifying glasses and take a shot with me, and confirm it best we can.

Here’s what we know about Joe, who by the way, turned 66 years old the other day. He was a Brooklyn-born and Long Island-raised lefty fireballer who established himself as one of the National League’s strongest relief pitchers with the Houston teams of the late 1970s and early 80s before elbow and shoulder problems stalled his career in 1982. He wore 35 for the Astros. By the time 1985 came around Sambito was still struggling to get his stuff back. When the Astros asked the veteran to accept a minor league assignment he refused, becoming a free agent and fielding offers from several clubs before accepting a major-league minimum deal from the Mets.

The picture shows Sambito pitching in a day game at Shea. That helps narrow things considerably, as Sambito appeared in just two of those. The guess here is that this was the first of those games, and also, Sambito’s Mets debut, on April 28 against the Pirates.

That was a memorable day. Not for Joe Sambito, who quietly pitched a scoreless seventh inning in a 4-4 game — but because the game was only getting started then. It lasted 18 innings before Mookie Wilson scored on an error and the Mets walked off with a 5-4 victory. In the in between, 41-year-old Rusty Staub, who entered as a pinch hitter in the 12th inning, spent the next five innings in the outfield, switching corner outfield positions with Clint Hurdle depending on the handedness of the batter in a concession to Le Grand Orange’s failing knees. Despite that, Rusty made a game-saving running catch in the top of the 18th to retire Pirate pinch-hitter Rick Rhoden who hit an opposite-field fly (if you don’t remember Rhoden, he was one of the best hitting pitchers of his era). Reliable Rusty also had a double that could have won the game in the 12th, but the inning died on a Ray Knight double-play and a bases-loaded popout by Gary Carter. I remember that game well, as it helped to cement my image of Davey Johnson as a master strategist.

The starting right fielder in that game was John Christensen, who was double-switched out in the 12th when Staub entered. And until that day, Christensen was wearing 35. Our records show Christensen wore No. 7 from that point on, so likely lost in the excitement of that thriller was news that Christensen set aside 35 for Sambito.

Sambito struggled mightily in 35, by the way, was sent to Tidewater in June, and released by the Tides that August. The Mets would see him next in Game 3 of the 1986 World Series, pitching ineffective relief for Boston.

So that’s our working theory, thanks to this picture: Sambito wearing 38 for 1 game; 35 for his other seven Mets appearances. Anyone have further observations or concluding proof? Let us know. And happy birthday, Joe!

 

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