In the second part of a 3-part interview, veteran Mets beat writer Marty Noble and I discuss recent Met history with uniform numbers again providing the backbeat. It should be noted this conversation took place in January, shortly before the Johan Santana deal brought a decidedly sunnier outlook to me at least. Thanks again to Marty for his cooperation and candor.
What’s your sense of Charlie Samuels’ power in the clubhouse?
Every clubhouse has a guy like that. Del Webb and Dan Topping didn’t decide what number Mickey Mantle wore: Pete Sheehey did. I know of clubhouse guys, not on the Mets, who wouldn’t give a black player a number that belonged to a racist white player.
Someone wrote me an email once that suggested the Mets only issued No. 21 to black players.
Spahn says that’s wrong. Elliott Maddox? He was 21. Cleon Jones. Bill Pulsipher, Yoshii. Cleon is the first 21 that comes to mind for me. Pulsipher – he was special guy. I wish he’d filled 21 for 20 years. I don’t know anyone who enjoyed the game more than he did. Loved every second of what he was doing. He was strange and crazy and sometimes, not always crazy in a good way, but he loved the game, and I respected him. I liked him a lot.
He was zero.
Do you remember why?
No. Do you?
No. I thought someone must have had a reason for that.
I remember what Rey said when he didn’t want to be zero anymore: I want to be more than nothing.
He’s that, all right.
I liked Rey. He trusted me. If you drew a circle around second base seven feet in diameter, there was never a guy who played that area of the field like Ordonez. Nobody. Not Ozzie, not anyone I ever saw.
Seemed that he could have been a more useful offensive player than he turned out to be.
Yeah. Part of that was him bulking up too much, part of that was Valentine. They should have told him, just catch the ball. He wasn’t much more than inept than Belanger, who had one good year as a hitter. But Bobby always had to fix somebody. That’s part of the reason Jay Payton didn’t like Bobby: He didn’t want to be fixed. But he wouldn’t come to him for help and Bobby wanted guys who came to him for help.
It was my impression that Valentine was a Payton guy.
Oh no. Not even close.
Bobby was a great coach of hitting. I remember doing a piece the first spring he was there, where I followed him from field to field over 60 minutes. One of the things he did in a very brief period of time was teach Fonzie how to hit the inside pitch to right field with power. And Fonzie was amazed at what he’d learned. He was not someone who ever raised his voice, but he was stunned that Valentine knew so much.
Valentine also helped Agbayani become a very efficient hitter against lefthanded pitching. But if you didn’t go to him, he wouldn’t want you. A young player would have to worship at the altar before Bobby would accept him.
Do you remember what number Payton wore?
25 and 44.
Guys who were 44 tended to want to be power hitters.
Ryan Thompson, for sure. But not Jeff Reardon. Payton was a line-driver. I’m still disappointed at the career he had because I thought he was going to be a stunning player. He lost significant time to injuries. To miss two years when he should have been learning in the minors was a shame. He and Paul Wilson were very hard workers, it’s a shame that so little went their way.
Wilson wore 32.
As did Matlack, Tom Hausman and Mike Stanton.
Stanton was like Glavine – no Met fan’s favorite Met.
But he was a pro and gave you all he had every night.
As a fan, I found that the celebration of Glavine’s 300th win was way over the top. He was a guy whose equity was still with the Braves.
I don’t think it was doing anything more than getting people in the park. It was also because he and Jeff were very tight. I have great regard for Glavine. The fans said awful things about him.
[Glavine] said he was not devastated. He probably shouldn’t have said it. What he said was, I’m disappointed beyond belief how I performed but I’m not devastated. That’s not how to be.
But contrast what they did for Glavine with what they did for a guy like Alfonzo, who by the time he left the organization was well up there among the leaders in all the offensive categories and was beloved by all the fans.
Well this was 300 wins and for Fonzie the equivalent would have been 3,000 hits and he wasn’t close to that. To some extent these things are about selling tickets. The Yankees had Elston Howard’s number retired to sell tickets. Obviously the last game will stay with his image forever. But without him, they don’t have a chance and I don’t know how they’re going to replace him.
The Mets always say they want a guy who knows how to pitch, but as soon as the Mets get one they trade him for Ambiorix Burgos. Bannister was going to be a good fit. But Omar thinks of guys who can throw a ball through a wall.
Frank Cashen could open a drawer, take out a piece of paper and show you who would be on the team in three years. I don’t think Omar could tell you who’s going to be on the team in April. They don’t have anything down below. They lost Flores last year knowing they didn’t want to have LoDuca around. They have nobody to be a first baseman and they won’t want to pay Delgado after this year. What happens if Pedro leaves and there’s a good chance he will? I’m not big on what he does.
The feeling I get as a fan was that they were getting a little better at looking at things ahead of time, putting resources into the organization that they hadn’t before Omar arrived.
I think they are devoting resources. But they still have to have a catcher. They don’t have a first baseman. I don’t expect Delgado is going to do that much more than he did last year.
What about Mike Pelfrey?
Hard read. More awful times than good times. But that game against the Braves was fantastic. I’d tell Pelfrey you have 25 starts. And if you’re horseshit after 25 starts we’ll have to look at it. I think they have to do it that way. You don’t know what you’re going to get with Pedro. He could break down anytime. I don’t trust Perez. I was wrong on him already; I didn’t think he’d be as effective as he was last year. You know Perez is just waiting to go 12-17.
He wears 46. That doesn’t portend good things in Mets history.
Neil Allen, David West, Terry Bross, Brian Bohanon, Willie Blair…
Bohanon is one of those guys who Bobby Valentine made better. Blair gave up that home run to McGuire.
One of those relievers they brought in. Like Jeff Musselman or Ricardo Jordan. Jordan came over with Toby Borland in the Rico Brogna deal and shit the bed against the Padres in Bobby Valentine’s first opening day as manager. They gave up 11 runs in the 5th inning. But the great thing about Ricardo Jordan was that he had a sister called Lucy. So we had Lucy, we had Ricardo. We had little Ricky Otero and Desi Relaford all in a period of four years. And I put it all in a story and wrote the headline: Meet the Merts.
When is your book coming out?
Never. I don’t have the time for one, but also, I don’t want to be put in a spot where I can’t use the best stuff I have. I also don’t want to offend some guys. I have some Doc stories that might not shock people, but would intrigue them. But he’s had enough. And there’s some good stories about Wally. But maybe some things are best left unsaid. I grew up in that time where we knew Mickey Mantle hit home runs and were probably better off not knowing that he drank.
Remember that whole mess when Izzy said something supposedly anti-Semitic into the telephone? It was ’97, we were in St. Louis, and he’s on the DL, not even at the ballpark, and Jay Horwitz has a conference call. And because Jay can’t function with anything mechanical, he hits the wrong button on the phone, so instead of hitting private he hits speakerphone and Isringhausen – a great German name – says, “Yes, Jewboy?” That was the full extent of it. Every one of the writers knew that Jay communicates with his players that way, saying, “I’m the Jew!”
All of a sudden one of the writers said Tom Hill was going to go with it. Then Buster Olney goes to his editor at the Times and says, “Someone said ‘Jew.’ Should we go with this?” Now everybody had to do it, and all it did was cause shit and nobody got any benefit from the story being written. It offended every Jew in the world: Those who didn’t like what Jay did, those who think every German hates Jews, and those who aren’t Jewish or German. I had lots of stories I could have written that day. Instead my editor, without my knowing it, added to my story that it wasn’t the first time the Mets have been accused of anti-Semitism, and quoted something from Nelson Doubleday in John Helyar’s book Lords of the Realm. And so now Nelson’s furious at me.
Who runs the team today? Fred or Jeff?
Jeff. He’s OK. You don’t have to be his friend, but you wouldn’t want him as your enemy. He’s doing the right thing. He’s trying to make the team good. And they’re not cheap.
Does the Lastings Milledge trade reflect any threats to the longterm security of Omar?
I think the Milledge trade was 97% baseball and 3% they didn’t have the same sense of reluctance they would have had had he not shot his mouth off and done stupid things. It’s been little things with him from the day they got him. But he never got it, and I don’t think they believe he ever would have.
All he ever had to do is say “Oh, yeah, you’re right. I screwed up.” I don’t think he could do that, and I don’t think he ever reallybelieved that. You may not think there’s anything wrong with what you do, but if all the people think that, then you have to at least acknowledge it.
He also couldn’t play center field in New York because Beltran was here. When you have the high profile he had and start making errors in New York it’s a bigger story than if Ryan Church makes an error. And I don’t think the Mets thought he was capable of handling that. They made a good deal I think.
Church has nice numbers but appears to cry out for a right-handed hitting platoonmate.
So they go with Easley.
What about a guy like Nady?
I d take him back in a heartbeat. When he left here two years ago he was fourth in league in RBIs that tied the score and second in the league in RBIs that took the lead, and this is while missing a few weeks for an appendectomy and playing with a broken wrist. Omar said he didn’t catch the ball real well but neither did Shawn Green.
Is Delgado going to have a better year?
Hard to tell with him. He had those periods last year where he didn’t get beat on fastballs, and also those where he couldn’t catch up. He’s a curious guy. I thought he’d be a real great pickup in terms of helping others along the way but he really keeps to himself. He’s not a clubhouse force.
Wright seems to me that kind of guy who’ll accommodate anyone with a microphone and a notebook.
David is perfect. He may be the perfect player in every way there is. I was around Carter and Carter did a lot of the things David did, but you got the idea that Carter did those things because he wanted people to think he was a nice guy. David does it because he is a good guy. It’s astonishing.
Coming in Part 3: Marty faces THE LIGHTNING ROUND!