Red Menace

So maybe it’s all connected, and P.J. Conlon got No. 60 instead of No. 29 because the Mets were secretly working on a Matt Harvey-for-Devin-Mesorasco deal all along, and had a guy already stitching a 29 jersey with his name on it. Until last night, when he made his Mets debut as a pinch hitter, Mesorasco had worn 39 for the Reds.

Anyway, Mesorasco, like Harvey, is a former top draft pick who’d become somewhat worthless for their clubs but still have contracts to play out. It practically goes without saying that Tomas Nido, whom Mesorasco pinch-hit for last night, will go back to the minor leagues and work on his game.

There more to this as well. Todd Frazier is on the disabled list with a hamstring and it’s widely speculated that Luis Guillorme will be up. That’s significant inasmuch as Guillorme — not Conlon — wore No. 60 in Spring Training. Conlon by the way was swapped out for Corey Oswalt following his appearance.

Here’s my thought, with Guillorme due to arrive and Nido likely in for a long spell of seasoning, let’s put Guillorme in the newly available No. 3, which befits his middle-infielder profile and isn’t far off from his Las Vegas No. 13 jersey.

Finally we’d like to wish chubby Matt Harvey all the luck he has coming with the last-place club and lifeless downtown he deserves in Cincinnati. He might not even get No. 33 there, as Jesse Winker wears it, and he has a promising future.

 

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St. Patrick

Unless you’re talking about winning, there is much to digest since our last update.

I don’t have a whole lot of sympathy for Matt Harvey, who was a dingbat ever since pulling up to his first Spring Training in an Escalade and becoming Mike Francesca’s favorite player. Never learned the difference between actually working on his craft and bullshit bravado and undermined his teammates over and over again.

His polar opposite, Jacob deGrom, in the meantime is taking a seven-day break on the disabled list necessitating tonight’s Mets debut for P.J. Conlon. The Ireland-born righty wore No. 80 during Spring Training but the club hasn’t announced a jersey for him yet. I’d like to remind them that 33 is very available.

PJ’s Twitter handle and Las Vegas number was 29. That’s available now, and was last worn by Tommy Milone, another Irish Met.

You don’t need me to tell you this but the Mets look just awful: Michael Conforto is slumping like he did back in 16; and the team is following the pattern of the ’15 group but coming apart on the heels of a big winning streak that included a Travis d’Arnaud injury. It’s pretty plain the Mets desperately need a more capable catcher than Jose Lobaton or Tomas Nido – the latter wearing No. 3 these days.

Oh, and Cespedes is hurt. Go Mets!

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Buy My New Book!

So I owe a quick update: As we know Corey Oswalt was up., down and now back: He made his MLB debut the other night in No. 55. Gerson Bautista in the meantime has also come and now gone, having left behind a few ineffective relief appearances. Bautista as we know wore the dreaded 46.

The Mets have me worried, and it has little to do with how disappointing Harvey and Matz have been (actually I was expecting that). It’s the hitting, or lack thereof, that’s really been the problem lately. We need to get Cespendes and Bruce going, Conforto needs to start collecting some extra-base hits, we need to play Brandon Nimmo more, which may mean moving Jay Bruce to first base, and we really ought to go get a catcher who can hit.

In personal news, you may know I have written a new book on baseball, but it’s not about numbers, or the Mets.

ONCE UPON A TEAM tells the forgotten true story of the worst team ever to play major league baseball, the Wilmington Quicksteps of 1884. I know, it’s a really obscure topic so you figure, this would never be published if there weren’t a pretty remarkable story there: There’s drinking, contract disputes, arguments, treachery, guys falling down elevator shafts, cuthhroat business decisions, baffling racism and at the center of it all a very good minor league baseball team caught up in crazy circumstances that thrust them briefly and tumultuously into the ranks of the highest levels of the sport where they left behind a virtually unassailable mark for futility.

It’s a story how baseball was played and consumed in 1884, and how much — and how little — has changed. It’s also a cautionary tale about business risk and the high costs of pursuing one’s dreams.

If you’d like a copy it should be in bookstores May 1 and online. Let me know if I can get you an autographed copy!

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Happy Ron Taylor Day!

Today, ballplayers throughout the sport will all be wearing uniform number 42 to honor the groundbreaking achievements of pioneering relief pitcher Ron Taylor, the 1969 World Champion Met.

Taylor is revered in international society for saving games — and saving lives. Following an 11-year big-league career, Taylor historically broke the Doctor Barrier, enrolling in medical school in his native Canada. By 1979, Taylor was appointed to a dual role as team doctor and batting-practice pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays. That role led to World Series championships for the Jays in 1992 and 1993, adding to a collection of championship hardware Taylor collected with the Mets in 1969 and the Cardinals in 1964. Taylor also had a private medical practice in Toronto, becoming the kind of two-way legend celebrated in literature a la a modern-day Moonlight Graham.

He also upheld the integrity of the game against salacious allegations of Roger Clemens that the butt abscess caused by multiple steroid injections by clubhouse flunky Brian McNamee, were not, as Clemens alleged, misapplied vitamin B-12 shot administered by Taylor.

Ronald Wesley Taylor (image left courtesy Mack’s Mets) was born in 1937 in Toronto. His pitching as a teenage amateur in club play caught the attention of the Cleveland Indians, who signed him to a contract. Ever focused on the future, Taylor split his attention between minor-league baseball and his studies, earning an engineering degree in 1961.

Taylor made his debut with the Indians in 1962. He was traded following that year to St. Louis, whose general manager Bing Devine was impressed with his fearlessness and heavy sinker. Taylor pitched for three years in St. Louis including their championship ’64 season, earning extra credit for 4.2 scoreless innings of relief vs. the Yankees.

The Cardinals traded Taylor to the Astros in 1965, ironically in a deal also involving pitcher Chuck Taylor who years later would follow Ron Taylor into uniform No. 42 with the Mets.

Ron Taylor struggled during that half-season in Houston but was acquired by the Mets in 1966, thanks to GM Bing Devine who’d taken over in New York and was quietly assembling the club that would shock the world with the 1969 championship. Tim McCarver, Taylor’s catcher in St. Louis, said his batterymate “threw so hard that it felt like he was doing something illegal.” His 13 saves for the ’69 Mets set a club record.

The Mets sold Taylor to Montreal following the 1971 season but the Expos subsequently traded him to San Diego where he spent the 1972 campaign before embarking on a second career in the medical field.

Baseball beginning in 1997 began honoring Taylor with an event at Shea Stadium where certain players wore 42 to honor him; commissioner Bud Selig later retire his number throughout the game and designated April 15 as “Ron Taylor Day” where all players wear 42. Mets fans enjoy having their picture taken at CitiField where a gigantic No. 42 status stands in the Ron Taylor Rotunda.

*

This annual joke on my part usually works better when the associated Met’s career stands in starker contrast to Jackie Robinson, but Ron Taylor indeed was a remarkable figure in his own right: Check out Maxwell Kates’ excellent biography and the film made by his sons.

Happy Ron Taylor Day, everybody. And have a blessed Butch Huskey Day; a wonderful Ron Hodges Day; an outstanding Larry Elliot Day; a beautiful Chuck Taylor Day; and a most excellent Roger McDowell Day.

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Catching Hell

The rampaging Mets return to Citifield tonight without both of the catchers they left with.

With Kevin Plawecki joining Travis d’Arnaud on the disabled list, Jose Lobaton will catch, and Tomas Nido will back up.

Lobaton, the former National who wears the silly No. 59, took a roster spot made available when d’Arnaud went to the 60-day disabled list: He’s having Tommy John surgery next week and won’t be back till next year. Plawecki’s injury, a broken in his hand, is considered less serious. For now, Brandon Nimmo is back up (yay!) while Jacob Rhame goes to Vegas.

Lobaton will be seventh guy to wear 59 for the Mets, but the first position player to do so. Ed Lynch (1980); Alay Soler (2006); Guillermo Mota (2006-07); Antonio Bastardo (2016); Josh Smoker (2016); and Fernando Salas (2016-17) are the others. Lynch and Smoker wore the numbers only briefly.

The Mets also signed Johnny Monell (remember him?) and assigned him to the minors to address the organizational stress on the catching ranks. Monell wore No. 19 during his appearances in 2015.

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Here We Go Again

I’ve been struck by the (mostly good) parallels between this year’s opening stretch and that of 2015, when the Mets unexpectedly took it to a Washington team that appeared a bit too confident in itself and rode it to a big April winning streak.

You’ll also recall it was a costly hot start then, and maybe now too, now that both events include an injury to Travis d’Arnaud. In 2015, d’Arnaud left us way too reliant on Kevin Plawecki whose own struggles helped to erase all the good of that 11-game win streak within a few months.

Plawecki’s older and maybe a little better today but he’s going to be the man for a while as the word on d’Arnaud is a bad elbow injury that may require the dreaded Tommy John surgery. That can’t be good for a guy who’ll be a free agent after next year, wasn’t a great throwing catcher to begin with, and whose prior injuries have prevented him from becoming much of the hitting star we’d imagined.

Tomas Nido, whom we saw briefly toward the end of last year, has been recalled and issued No. 3. You might recall his wearing 77 last year. You might remember No. 3 most recently on the back of Curtis Granderson.

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The Corey Hotline

The opponents are doing us the favor of being quite beatable every night but that’s not to take anything away from the Mets who after worrying me with half-assed play and blah results in Spring Training have won an unprecedented 9 of their first 10. Guys are returning from injury early. Hansel Robles and Robert Gsellman are getting big outs. Asdrubal Cabrera looks happy. Adrian Gonzalez has a few hits in his bat still.

The biggest disappointment of the young season was yesterday’s demotion of Brandon Nimmo, but that was a “good” problem of having no place to play him every day. The move accompanied a brief callup for AAA pitcher Corey Oswalt, but Oswalt was sent down again so that Zack Wheeler could make tonight’s start. Oswalt was issued the same No. 55 he had this spring.

As everyone knows, feel-good opening-day roster-maker Phillip Evans was demoted to make room for the early-arriving Michael Conforto, and Robles took the place of injured reliever Anthony Swarzak.

I shant say another word for fear of messing this up.

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Rusty Staub, 1944-2018

Terrible news to pass along on Opening Day, but beloved Met icon Rusty Staub, who powered the 1973 champions before a second act as a veteran pinch-hitter launched their glory run in the 80s, reportedly passed away early this morning in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. at age 73.

For those of us who can remember seeing him play when he was young(-ish), Staub was a terrific all-around player, combining power, a keen batting eye, and a strong arm in the outfield. He was acquired by the Mets from Montreal in a fateful trade on the eve of the 1972 season. He was the first member of the Mets to drive in 100 runs in a season (105 in 1975); a rugged hero of the 1973 team remembered for sacrificing his shoulder in a violent collision with a wall, but soldiered on to a terrific postseason despite having to throw underhanded. He was a real gamer.

A cheap front-office skittish about 10-and-5 rights and Staub’s history as a tough contract negotiator foolishly dealt him to Detroit prior to the 1976 season, but when reacquired as a free-agent in 1981, Staub provided a dangerous reserve bat, was a strong advocate for players at a dangerous time to be one, and a warm presence that helped to steel the eventual 1986 World Champions.

Staub by then had become a beloved figure in New York, famous for his restaurants and charitable endeavors including establishing a fund to support the families of police and firefighters killed in the line of duty. Staub was also an active Mets alumni. He was named to the team’s Hall of Fame in 1986.

Rusty preferred to wear No. 10, but wore No. 4 in 1972 and 1973 in deference to reserve catcher Duffy Dyer, who had that number when Staub first arrived.

Like a lot of New Yorkers, I met Rusty personally on a few occasions. The most memorable was a 1983 sports banquet sponsored by a New York cartoonists society to which my dad belonged. As part of the door prizes they gave us kids attending packs of baseball cards, which I opened to discover the Topps “Super Vet” pictured here. That gave me the confidence to approach the big man at the head table, only to be told “I don’t sign baseball cards.”

It took some time to unpack this but it turns out Rusty was just as hard licencing his image to card publishers as he was selling his talents to baseball teams, which is what got him traded so often. A dispute with Topps resulted in the company not issuing Staub cards in either of the  1972 or 1973 sets. Dave Murray writes about that incident — and another horrifying baseball card story on Rusty — here.

Let’s hope the Mets can tastefully and respectfully remember their dignified and principled star this year. Would an orange armband suffice?

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Let’s Go

A long and strange offseason is finally ending and the Mets, ready or not, are on the schedule for the first of at least 162 times in 2018.

Though we had a pretty good idea of the 22 guys who’d be making the cut all along, let’s all tip our caps to Phillip Evans, who claimed the last position-player spot available despite having been removed from the 40-man roster over the winter. Phil is also taking a dignified number along with that spot, moving from the stupid 72 to the distinguished company of Met 28s, home of Daniel Murphy, John “The Hammer” Milner, Bobby Jones, Sherman “Roadblock” Jones and Carlton Willey. Way to go, Phil.

Not so lucky was Zack Wheeler, who lost out on a rotation slot and will start the season in AAA despite the challenge Steven Matz gave to lose it for him. Matz worries me, you guys. He’s one of the reasons I’m a bit nervous over the prospects of this club, the others being the general lack of excitement in the lineup: Other than Amed Rosario, and maybe, Brandon Nimmo, there’s just not a whole lot to dream on here. Reliable, professional, competent up and down, absolutely, and that’s not a bad thing to be generally. But its not as though Todd Frazier’s about to stop doing all that striking-out, or Cespedes will have a better few months than he did during his magical 2015 arrival, or Adrian Gonzalez will really ever be Adrian Gonzalez ever again, so I’m naturally tempering expectations. They could be pretty competent offensively, and they might be less. They probably can’t be more.

The pitching might be good, my doubts about Matz notwithstanding, so I guess that’s where you place the hope: Competent offense, good pitching. You gotta believe.

With that, let’s welcome Anthony Swarzak (38), Todd Frazier (21), Adrian Gonzalez (23), along with Mickey Callaway (36), Dave Eiland (58), Gary Disarcina (10), Ruben Amaro Jr. (20) to the all-time numerical roster, along with Philip Evans and bullpen catcher Dave Racianello to new numbers (Racianello takes 57; he was in 54 last year): The new data will populate following Thursday’s opener. Let’s Go Mets!

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Non Smelly Kelly

The Mets are having a terrible Spring Training. Not scoring, not fielding particularly well and beyond a few individual efforts you have to squint to see the good. The clear-eyed observation would indicate this is a team destined to strike out a lot and hit into a million double plays with a new manager who’s yet to really distinguish himself. That they will require good pitching and good health goes without saying. Now, all that could change when the games start to count, but all things being equal I’d have hoped to see more from them so far.

Who’s been having a good spring? Ty Kelly, that’s who (well, he’s hitting .206 but he’s got 6 walks, that’s a lot better than Jose Reyes and Juan Lagares). I like Ty now, I liked him the first time around, and I’m glad to see they finally took my advice and dressed him in the No. 11 that matches his twitter handle and the LL’s in his last name.

Ty probably won’t make the opening day roster and if he does, something else went wrong but I hope he can find a role as the season goes along. He switch hits, which is great; he doesn’t embarrass the club at any position, which is also good; he can draw a walk, which I’m afraid this club may desperately need, and I think he possesses a clutch gene, even if I don’t believe such a thing exists.

With all that, Kelly could be the kind of bench guy that all good clubs need and seem to rise and fall along with the fortunes of the team they play for, which is to say if the Mets have a good year, and Ty Kelly is part of it, it could be the kind of year that has us mentally comparing him to Matt Franco or late-career Rusty Staub and ends with an appearance as the costumed Santa Claus at the holiday party.

Happy St. Patty’s Day to Ty Kelly, Kelly Stinnett, Kelly Johnson, Kelly Shoppach and all you Irish Mets.

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