Francesa’s Angel Is The Centerfold

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MattHarveypics

The ESPN Body Issue is a clever and creative response to the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Rather than try and create a copy as other magazines have done, ESPN went one step further using athletes naked as an “ode to exceptional athletic form.” That it’s done to spur sales and create buzz goes without mention.

Mike Francesa sounded like he was about to burst into a teary rendition of Centerfold by the J. Geils Band when discussing Matt Harvey’s participation. It’s no secret that Francesa has developed a borderline disturbing man-crush on Harvey. One can only wonder whether Andy Pettitte feels like a member of the first wives’ club as Francesa is throwing him over for the younger, stronger Harvey.

Francesa couldn’t hide his disappointment in Harvey taking part in the ESPN Magazine Body Issue going so far as to say that Harvey’s demeanor had been Derek Jeter-like in not making any stupid and embarrassing mistakes in his young career. Harvey’s rise has been meteoric, but is this as much of a misstep as Francesa implies?

Much like it’s preferable for a young pitcher like Zack Wheeler to come to the big leagues and scuffle rather than dominate making the game look easy only to be jolted later on, it’s also preferable for Harvey to be the person he is rather than transform himself into the mythic idol that Jeter has become. For Jeter, his position as the ideal for so many has resulted in a level of expectation that no one could match. He’s almost been deified to the degree that when something, anything happens that could possibly tarnish that image, it evolves into a giant story where, if it were another player, it would either be shrugged off or ignored.

In short, the Jeter image has shunned any pretense of reality. When he first started in the majors, Jeter had the guidance from his parents as well as baseball people Don Zimmer, Joe Torre and Buck Showalter. It also helped Jeter that, as a rookie, he was surrounded by players like Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden from whom he could learn and ask questions of what precisely not to do. His supposed playboy lifestyle with one starlet after another is winked and nodded at because he’s Derek Jeter. That it’s more of a show than anything else is beside the point.

With Jeter there has never been a public paternity question; never been a DUI; never been a bar fight or incident captured on cellphone camera of Jeter acting the fool. He’s guarded and careful with that image. In some instances it has turned into ridiculous expectations such as when he feigned being hit by a pitch against the Rays and took first base even though he hadn’t been hit. Parents were wondering how they could explain to their children how Derek Jeter could be so cavalier about fair play. This isn’t a carefully camouflaged, Christianity-tinged commercial from The Foundation for a Better Life in which the high school basketball player admits he touched the ball before it went out of bounds as a show of sportsmanship and Jeter was under no obligation to say he wasn’t hit when the ump told him to go to first base. The idea that he was “supposed” to do that because it was the “right” thing is ludicrous.

The one play that helped launch Jeter occurred in the 1996 ALCS against the Orioles when his deep fly ball was ably assisted out of the park by young fan Jeffrey Maier. It would not have gone out of the park if not for Maier and the Yankees might not have won that ALCS. Who knows how history would have been altered had they not won that first championship in 1996? Would Jeter turn the homer down in the interest of “fair play”? Of course not.

Jeter’s legend has grown to the level where it’s gone from he won’t take a misstep to he can’t take a misstep. That’s not an easy way to live. Harvey has the supermodel girlfriend and appears to be enjoying his success. He did the ESPN shoot and doesn’t need to explain nor apologize for it. Perhaps it would’ve helped Jeter if he’d pulled a Charles Barkley at some point and gone into an “I am not a role model” rant. Harvey probably wasn’t thinking that the appearance in the ESPN photo shoot would take a hammer to this image that the likes of Francesa were thrusting upon him, but it will have that affect. In the long run it’s a good thing.

There’s no question that Jeter is a player to emulate. For young stars including Harvey, he’s someone whose lead to follow, but that doesn’t mean the self should be superseded toward that end especially to live up to the dreamy expectations of someone like Mike Francesa.

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Mets Fans’ Negativity Toward Brian Wilson is Absurd

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Underneath his cautious word choices, poker face, military cachet and known bio as an Ivy League-trained lawyer, Sandy Alderson has the true countenance of a “get the job done however you have to” Marine grunt. We see it occasionally when he’s had enough of answering the same questions over and over again as he did with his snide (and unnecessary) comment about sending chocolates to Jose Reyes; with his crack about currently not having any outfielders; and with his blunt dismissal twelve years ago of Mike Hampton’s decision to sign with the Rockies when Hampton referenced the Colorado school system. (Alderson said, rightly, that Hampton went to Colorado because they offered the most money.)

For the Mets, he wants players who can play and who fit into what he’s trying to build. This concept of signing players who have class and dignity is ridiculous and no one—not even the case study of a club that portrays itself as that, namely the Yankees—adheres to it. It’s a storyline designed to create an image and has no basis in reality.

The absurdity of Mets fans complaining about the “act” of Brian Wilson as a foundation for not wanting the team to sign him is so glaring that one would think it’s satire. But it’s not. Alderson went to watch a Wilson workout and while the erstwhile Giants’ closer is still recovering from Tommy John surgery, the Mets are said to be interested in him. If he’s ready at some point in the early summer and they can to a two-year contract with an option for a third, he’d be a perfect addition to a team that, by 2014-2015, will need a legitimate closer for a playoff run.

Wilson’s off-field personality is a matter of taste. Personally, I think he’s funny. Even if I didn’t, I wouldn’t care about that when assessing whether or not the Mets should sign him. He’s all business on the mound and that’s what counts. As opposed to other closers who are reluctant or outright refuse to throw more than one inning to accumulate the relatively meaningless save stat, Wilson has shown a willingness to pitch more than one inning and sometimes more than two innings to help his team.

Would the fans prefer to have Frank Francisco closing over Wilson? Why? Because Wilson has an over-the-top beard and draws attention to himself? Francisco Rodriguez, the last star closer the Mets had, was arrested for punching his common-law father-in-law in the face in the Citi Field family room and there were fans who: A) didn’t want him traded the next year; and B) wanted the Mets to bring him back to close for them when he became available.

But they don’t want Wilson. The same fans who look back nostalgically on the 1980s Mets whose on-field attitude was closer to that of a street gang than a baseball team and whose partying led to them winning one championship with a squad that should have won at least three and probably five; a team that has had multiple members—Darryl Strawberry, Lenny Dykstra, Dwight Gooden, Wally Backman—in trouble with the law, is seen as a beacon in the organization’s existence, yet they don’t want Wilson because of his beard and Lady Gaga-like “look at me!!” persona.

In his time as Athletics GM in the 1980s, Alderson wasn’t trying to score political points or build a G-rated theme park when he tolerated Jose Canseco’s act and had players who were using steroids without his consent to accumulate cartoonish muscles and hit home runs; he had Rickey Henderson on his team, a player who never met a management who couldn’t irritate; his manager was the notably egomaniacal and difficult Tony LaRussa. Alderson’s not building a military where conformity is necessary. He wants people who can play and help his team win. Period.

Wilson, as quirky as he is, has never had an incident off the field, nor have we heard of him being a clubhouse problem. If the Mets can get him at a discounted rate and he’s healthy, his post-season bona fides and willingness to do whatever is necessary to help the team win without complaint or thought of his own health and future would be a welcome change to a clubhouse that could use his fastball and veteran grit to counteract a vanilla group. Wilson cultivates the publicity and will gladly say, “I’ll take the heat. Follow me.” As much as David Wright is the acknowledged leader of the Mets, he doesn’t have that edge that Wilson would bring.

There’s no basis in saying “no” to him for his beard or tattoos or any off-field reason that’s not hurting anyone. “He annoys me,” is not a reason. Closing is more mentality than stuff and if Wilson has the mentality. If he can return to some semblance of form, the Mets should try and get him because he’d help them win more games. And that’s all that really matters.

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David Wright’s Keith Hernandez Moment

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No one will ever confuse the aw shucks, golly gee image of David Wright with the overt leadership of the cigarette smoking bad boy and manipulative architect of clubhouse politics, Keith Hernandez; but the similarities between Wright bypassing his 2013-2014 opportunity at free agency and sign with the Mets for what amounts to 8-years and $138 million—NY Times story—and Hernandez staying with the Mets in 1983-84 are underlying and significant.

When Hernandez was traded from the Cardinals to the Mets, Whitey Herzog was in part seeking a relief pitcher he’d always coveted in Neil Allen and in part had had enough of Hernandez, his lazy work habits, sense of entitlement, and poor attitude. As a result of the confluence of events, Herzog shipped Hernandez out of St. Louis. At the time, Hernandez was bitter and angry about the trade and certainly didn’t want to go to the perennial last place Mets, a team that he and the Cardinals had openly laughed at when they saw the slogan “The Magic is Back” in the early 1980s. In later years, after the butting of the heads of two strong-willed men subsided and the competition between the Mets and Cardinals was nothing but a memory, Hernandez and Herzog reconciled with Hernandez admitting that his attitude was terrible and Herzog was right to trade him; he also said that next to his father, no one taught him more about the game of baseball than Herzog. The two are close to this day and Hernandez has referred to Herzog as a “dear friend.”

In 1983, however, no one wanted to go to the Mets. As much of a loonybin as the Yankees were, their crosstown co-residents (because they weren’t rivals) were, as Hernandez said in his highly underrated 1986 book If At First, the “Siberia of baseball.”

In that same book, on pages 10-11, Hernandez discussed the difficult decision to remain with the Mets after the 1983 season:

Frank Cashen, the Mets’ general manager, realized that I wasn’t thrilled with my new circumstances. He also knew the Mets would have nothing to show for the trade if I became a free agent.

“Tell us after the year, Keith, how you feel,” he said. “Give me two weeks before the winter meetings. If you want, we’ll trade you. We don’t want to lose you for nothing.”

That was fair. I owed it to them.

***

The state of the ballclub was my chief consideration. I wouldn’t have signed with a sure loser for any sum.

***

My father, a former minor-leaguer with baseball connections all over, checked with scouts around the league and reported back about some great young arms in the minors, just about ready.

I decided the Mets had a chance to be a better ballclub in 1984, maybe fourth place, but I also feared I would be signing up for six years of sixth place—dead last. It was a scary thought.

***

In the end, I gambled. After making any number of wrong decisions over the years, I decided to go against my natural instinct. I wanted to leave, so I stayed instead.

I had never met Dwight Gooden or Ron Darling.

Wright isn’t the man the reporters go to for off-the-record quotes ripping teammates, coaches, managers, and front office folk as they sometimes did with Hernandez. The first baseman, cigarette in hand, would give the on-the-record, canned reply and then utter the truth that he wanted out there as an unnamed source. It wasn’t a chicken method either; Hernandez would also directly inform the objects of his ire what he thought. Using the media was a last resort and done so because the man-to-man approach wasn’t yielding the desired effect. That was the key with Keith: he used the media; the media used him and everyone knew the parameters of the relationship and the deal.

Hernandez had star power on and off the field and, at the time, was the coolest guy in New York. Wright is cool in a geeky, good boy way. Wright isn’t the cagey operator that Hernandez was. He’s the unambiguous leader of the current Mets on and off the field, lets his teammates know when they’re not pulling their share of the load or are behaving in a manner he sees as unprofessional, and is popular throughout baseball with everyone from opposing players, to coaches, to managers, to GMs, to owners, and umpires.

Wright was faced with the same dilemma Hernandez was: a team that has long been the butt of jokes; few free agents willing to come unless they were drastically overpaid and had no other option; and limited resources in comparison to other clubs, specifically the one across town. But there were reasons and advantages to staying as well. They got their money pre-free agency without having to sing for their supper and endure the yearlong questions as to their intentions; the alternatives might not be all that enticing considering what happened with big spending hot stove champions the Red Sox, Angels, Phillies and Marlins who signed players like Albert Pujols and Wright’s friend and former teammate Jose Reyes to big deals only to degenerate into absurdity that had heretofore been the Mets’ primary domain.

Would that money be there a year from now? Would the Mets be forced to trade Wright if he didn’t sign? And what about the young pitchers Jonathon Niese, Matt Harvey and the onrushing Zack Wheeler?

Wright and Hernandez are light years away from one another as people, but they had a similar choice to make in moving forward with a “might be” rather than move on to what “is.” And both made the right call in staying with the Mets.

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YES, the Yankees and Murdoch—A Look Into the Future

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Newscorp is closing in on a deal to purchase up to 49% of the YES Network—NY Times story.

After all those years of pure Yankees partisanship disguised as evenhanded sports news, it’s a relief that a trusted and historically non-partisan, fact-based entity such as Newscorp is buying into YES. Now, with the skillsets of Rupert Murdoch in installing qualified and reputable people to deliver fair and balanced dissemination of information, YES can become something other than the Yankees infomercial it’s been for its entire existence. Let’s look into the crystal ball of what to expect.

Say YES in the Morning with Meredith and John—6  to 10 AM

Meredith Marakovits and John Sterling bring you all the morning sports news with your coffee (and possibly a small shot of bourbon). Join Meredith and John as long as John is able to get up in the morning and clear the bleariness out of his head and eyes.

The audience wins. The….audience…..WWWWIIIIIINNNNNNSSSS!!!!!

The Emperor’s Lair with Jason Zillo—10 AM-11 AM

If you’re wondering what it’s like to be the gatekeeper to the Yankees Universe, wonder no more. Jason Zillo takes you on a tour of the Yankees from the all-seeing, all-knowing, guardian of the brand. From Derek Jeter’s lavish Tampa home to Alex Rodriguez’s star-studded dating history (he can give you a free baseball with his number on it), Zillo grants you, the audience, an audience.*

*Like the evil, all-powerful Anthony from the “It’s a Good Life” episode of the Twilight Zone, this is contingent on you only thinking good thoughts about the Yankees. He is the gatekeeper, after all.

Hank Steinbrenner Bloviates—11 AM-12 PM

With smoke coming out his his ears, nose, mouth and eyes—some of it cigarette related, some not; as well as imparting of baseball knowledge and irrational demands reminiscent of his late father emanating from his behind amid more smoke, Hank Steinbrenner asks, no, demands that you watch. And don’t change that channel.

The Daily National Anthem with Haley Swindal—12 PM-1 PM

You’re a patriot, aren’t you? Well, then you must enjoy Haley Swindal singing multiple renditions of The Star Spangled Banner and God Bless America, followed by stories about the adventures she’s experienced traveling around the world…singing The Star Spangled Banner and God Bless America. It’s a travel show unlike any you’ve ever seen!!

Mike’s On Simulcast—the Mike Francesa Show on WFAN 1 PM-6:30 PM (6 PM in-season)

A better Yankees apologist not officially working for YES you’ll never find. Francesa doesn’t bother with the inconveniences of journalism by deciding to interview or question the likes of Yankees GM Brian Cashman or manager Joe Girardi, he interacts with them providing insight and advice on players from Brandon Inge to Nate McLouth.

Of course Hiroki Kuroda’s going to take a 1-year deal to return to the Yankees!!! Of course he is!!! He prefers the West Coast? But don’t you wanna be a YANKEE?!?!

Watch Francesa drink endless buckets of Diet Coke, rant against the Mets with a faux passion diabolically disguised by raving, incomprehensible lunacy; see him cut Rex Ryan and the Jets down to size better than liposuction and stomach stapling; listen as he makes a difference (because it affected him) with LIPA.

And don’t you ever forget that Darrelle Revis committed pass interference on the doctor when he had knee surgery too.

During the baseball season

Yankees Pregame with Bob Lorenz, Nancy Newman and “analysts”—6 PM-7PM

If you’re looking for validation as to why the Yankees are the greatest thing ever-ever and will never lose but will only run out of innings, the search is over. The team of experts will provide you with a Machiavellian justification to explain away any lingering doubts that the Yankees might not actually be the only team to win a World Series in baseball history.

From April to late October (guaranteed)—Yankees Baseball 7 PM-10 PM

Yankees baseball from start to finish with zero objectivity and intelligent baseball wisdom delivered by the endless stream of broadcasters Michael Kay, Ken Singleton, David Cone, John Flaherty, Al Leiter, Mel Allen, Phil Rizzuto, Suzyn Waldman, Dwight Gooden, Mel Hall, Frank Messer, Denver Wieland, Kyle Hanratty, Dugan McPhasenot, Bell Corling, Deafness Matriculation and the rest of the crew!!

The Yankees Post-Game Show with Bob Lorenz

Detailed analysis of each game from how the opposing team wilted at the mere sight of the pinstripes and the all-encompassing nature of the Yankees aura, or explanations why the Yankees should have won and, in fact, did win even if they lost in that inconvenient “reality” of a completed game.

During the off-season

The Kay Factor—8 PM-9 PM

If you enjoy Michael Kay on CenterStage, you’ll certainly enjoy him in an edgier version of the previous incarnations of his show. Resplendent in leather, Kay will take the Mets to the woodshed; he’ll jab his finger in your face; he’ll threaten to punch Phil Mushnick!! With guests such as Joel Sherman, Dick Morris, Karl Rove, and Richard Gere(?), join Michael for a hard-hitting hour of sports news that’s sure to whet your appetite for chicken parm!

Curry—9 PM-10 PM

Don’t you dare question Jack Curry’s journalistic credibility. He’ll get the story from the PR department of the same organization for which he works and then throw a tantrum if ESPN reports it as well. Prepare to be Re-Tweeted and called a clown for an hour each weeknight if you’re not onboard the unstoppable Curry train!! It’s like Sean Hannity, only with less rationality and more self-indulgent tantrums.

Cash—10 PM-11 PM

Brian Cashman’s entire world is opened up for all to see. From the “obvious process” that goes into any and all decisions, to the “Big Hairy Monsters,” to the pitching development, to the trades, he’ll take you from Carl Pavano to Pedro Feliciano, from Joe Torre to Joe Girardi, from the Joba Rules to his exhilarating nightlife.

Prepare to be stalked with internal baseball knowledge (among other things) from a guy who works hard and plays hard!

The Randy Levine Revue—11 PM-Midnight

One part Dr. Phil, one part Oprah, one part Jim Henson, and one part Frank Caliendo, Randy Levine informs and entertains! With such guests as Rudy Giuliani, a puppet version of Torre in which Randy retorts in a different way each to night to Torre telling him to “Shut the bleep up!”, along with singing and dancing, Randy’s as talented as he is versatile.

If you thought the YES Network was the go-to place before with George Steinbrenner’s looming presence, you have no idea what’s coming. Prepare for the reckoning with Fox News and the YES Network joined together. You’ve always compared them. Now they are one. It had to happen. And finally, it is.

We all win.

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Potential Difference Makers for the Stretch—American League

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Two examples of trades that made a significant difference in their team’s fortunes—and were under-the-radar, shrugged at, or ignored at the time—were when the Tigers traded for Doyle Alexander in August of 1987 and the Cardinals traded for Cesar Cedeno in 1985.

The veteran Alexander had experience in pennant races and was expected to bolster the Tigers’ rotation. Instead he pitched masterfully with a 9-0 record, a 1.53 ERA and, if you’re looking for numbers to prove how valuable he was, a 4.3 WAR. You can look at what the Tigers traded for him and say it was a mistake since they traded Michigan native, lifelong Tigers’ fan and future Hall of Famer John Smoltz to get him. But to be fair, Smoltz was a 22nd round pick who’d struggled in his time with the Tigers in the minors. In the moment, Alexander was the difference between the 1987 Tigers making or missing the playoffs. Had they won the World Series, I’m sure the Tigers would’ve said it was worth it even without 20 years of Smoltz. And there’s no guarantee that Smoltz would’ve been for the Tigers the pitcher he was with the Braves. We don’t know.

The veteran Cedeno, entering the closing phase of a career that should’ve been far better than it was given his talent, was traded to the Cardinals as a veteran bat off the bench in exchange for a minor leaguer who never made it and Cedeno posted a .434/.463/.750 slash line with 6 homers in 82 plate appearances. I was at the John TudorDwight Gooden classic pitcher’s duel where Gooden pitched 9 scoreless innings and Tudor 10. Cedeno homered off of Jesse Orosco in the top of the 10th to win the game. (That was also the night Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb’s hit record.)

There’s no telling how leaving a team playing out the string and joining a contender will wake up a veteran player and spur him to make a major contribution. It could be a starter, a reliever, a position player or a bench player, judgment comes in retrospect.

Let’s take a look at some American League players who are presumably available and could be to their new clubs what Alexander and Cedeno were for theirs.

Their National League counterparts will be posted later.

Josh Beckett, RHP—Boston Red Sox

He’ll get through waivers and loves the pressure of the post-season. Beckett would undoubtedly feel liberated by leaving Boston. The Red Sox would love to be rid of him on and off the field and the fans would also welcome his departure regardless of what they get for him—probably nothing more than salary relief. He’s got $31.5 million coming to him for 2013-2014 and is a 10 and 5 player; the Red Sox would have to pick up some of the freight to get rid of him. He’d okay a trade and it would be worth it to fans around the world to take up a collection to pay him off just to see how badly he’d unleash on Bobby Valentine and the Red Sox on the way out the door.

Kelly Johnson, 2B—Toronto Blue Jays

Talk surrounding the Blue Jays has centered around them trading shortstop Yunel Escobar to install young Adeiny Hechavarria at shortstop, but with Escobar under team control through 2015, the Blue Jays might be better-served to trade the pending free agent Johnson and let Hechevarria play second base. Johnson has power, walks and is solid enough defensively at second base.

Travis Hafner, DH—Cleveland Indians

He’s a free agent at the end of the season and no one is going to pay whatever he’s owed for the remainder of this season and the $2.75 million buyout. He’s also back in his office—the disabled list—with a back injury retroactive to August 6th. Someone would take him for nothing if the Indians pay his contract. He’d be a lefty bat with power and walks off the bench if he’s able to play. He’ll get traded at the end of the month.

Jeff Francoeur, RF—Kansas City Royals

Frenchy has been energized by changing addresses before. When he was let out of his Braves prison in 2009, he went on a tear for the Mets and, for a brief while, looked like he’d fulfill his potential away from the pressures and poor handling of him by the Braves. When the Mets traded him to the Rangers, he helped them with pop and his usual excellent defense. A team trading for him would be taking him on for 2013 at $6.75 million. Don’t be surprised to see him back in Texas with the Rangers. If he’d been in right field as a defensive replacement in game 6 of the World Series last year, the Rangers are world champions right now.

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The Santana No-Hitter From Soup To Nuts

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Let’s go point-by-point on Johan Santana’s no-hitter.

The call at third base.

Umpire Adrian Johnson called Cardinals’ outfielder and former Met Carlos Beltran’s would-be hit foul when it was fair. He blew the call, but it wasn’t as blatant as it’s being made out to be, nor was it the opposite of Jim Joyce’s blown (and gutsy) call from two years ago on Armando Galarraga’s imperfect/perfect game. Joyce called it as he saw it in spite of the situation and not all umpires would’ve done that. Umpires know the circumstances during a game, but their training is such that they’re highly unlikely to openly let it influence a call. It might’ve been subconscious, but we’ll never know one way or the other. Johnson himself probably doesn’t know for sure.

It happens though. One of the best and most respected umpires in history, the late Harry Wendelstedt, preserved Don Drysdale’s consecutive scoreless inning streak by ruling that Dick Dietz didn’t try to get out of the way on a Drysdale pitch that hit him. Drysdale was able to extricate himself from a jam and continued his streak.

It’s possible that Johnson was hoping the ball would be foul to keep the no-hitter intact, but that doesn’t make it a preplanned decision.

As for the idea that it tarnishes Santana’s accomplishment, you can find any instance in baseball and diminish it. Did the 1985 Royals deserve their World Series win after it was helped along by Don Denkinger’s mistake on a Jorge Orta ground out in game 6 as the Cardinals were on the verge of winning the World Series and wound up losing that game and game 7? They won game 7 by a score of 11-0 as Bret Saberhagen pitched a complete game shutout. The Royals won the World Series. It wasn’t handed to them.

Does the blown call ruin Mike Baxter’s catch in the seventh inning? No.

The Cardinals had ample opportunity to break up the no-no after the mistake. They didn’t.

Santana and the Mets earned their moment.

The history of the Mets.

With all the great and very good pitchers that have come and gone from the Mets—Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, Pedro Martinez, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, Nolan RyanDavid Cone, Jerry Koosman, Frank Viola—it’s a testament to the luck involved with pitching a no-hitter. That it was Santana who accomplished the feat sweetens the moment more than if it was done by a journeyman who will never be heard from again.

The pitch count.

This obsession with pitch counts served to leave fans worrying about what Mets’ manager Terry Collins was going to do with Santana as his number rose further than it ever had in his career. A similar instance occurred with the Yankees in 2010 as CC Sabathia reached the eighth inning with a no-hitter against the Rays and after it was broken up, manager Joe Girardi needlessly said he was going to pull Sabathia rather than let him throw too many pitches, no-hitter or not. Sabathia himself was bewildered and it would’ve been interesting to see whether Girardi would actually have done it.

It’s possible that he would have and the only result would’ve been to bolster the assertion that he’s a puppet of management and slave to his ridiculous binder of arbitrary numbers.

Collins was right in leaving Santana in to finish the game. The players support Collins, but that support could’ve been destroyed with one paranoid and silly move in taking his pitcher out as he was going for history. Adrenaline carried Santana past any exhaustion and he appeared to get stronger as the game went along. Collins is the same manager who justified his removal of Jose Reyes from the final game of the season in 2011 after Reyes bunted for a base hit to preserve his batting title. It turned out to be Reyes’s final game as a Met, but Collins didn’t know that then. The club wanted to keep Reyes and Collins basically said after the fact and in response to the criticism that he wasn’t going to ruin his relationship with Reyes for one play in one meaningless game. To be sure an old-school manager like Collins didn’t like what Reyes did, but he let it go for the good of the franchise. He did the same thing with Santana. Whatever happens from now on, happens.

Social media egomania, self-involvement and what “I” would’ve done.

The word “I” is in quotes because I’m not talking about myself.

Twitter became a world of the media inserting themselves into the narrative as to how the Santana no-hitter was affecting them as if we care; as if it matters.

Gonzo journalism worked for Hunter S. Thompson because he innovated it and was good at it. Others are doing it now and doing it poorly. Nobody cares how the Santana achievement affects David Lennon, Bob Klapisch, Howard Megdal, Joel Sherman, Ken Davidoff or anyone else.

But it’s all about me-me-me-me-me-me. It’s ego, arrogance and nothing else.

Yankees’ fans were doing it as well. There was an aura of the maintenance of bullying and “dominance” over the “little brothers”. The tone was “Yeah, have your moment but remember who’s in charge here.”

The Yankees are in charge of nothing and until Mets’ fans and the organization as a whole pushes back against this perception that the Yankees’ money and history is a foundation for such a logically false statement, it’s going to continue.

There were also those who said something along the lines of, “I’d take Santana out because the season is more important than one game.”

It’s not absurd to say that the Mets had to keep an eye on that game and an eye on the rest of the season, but to suggest that it was an no-brainer to pull him is the epitome of the ease of decisionmaking on social media for those who aren’t making the decisions. They’re not the ones who have to face the player in question (Santana), his teammates, the fans and the media after making such a monumental maneuver. The Twitter experts have all the balls in the world sitting nude in front of their computer and expressing what they think they would’ve done but would probably not have had the nerve to do; nor would they ever be in a position to do it, rendering the point moot.

It was a great night for the Mets and any amount of contextualization and obnoxiousness isn’t going to ruin it regardless of how hard the perpetrators try. They have their no-hitter. It’s in the record books as such and it won’t be taken away. Ever.

*NOTE: Those winding up here searching for the naked video clip of a Mets player following the no-hitter, I had embedded it but the content was removed from Youtube due to copyright infringement and I deleted it because the video was no longer viewable.

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Bryce Harper In Center Field is a Bad Idea

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It’s good to know that Davey Johnson hasn’t entered the realm of the elderly manager.

Given how thin he looks and that his voice seemed to be a shell of what it once was after taking over the Nationals last summer, it’s still a question as to how much of a managerial fastball he has left and if he’s going to maintain his energy throughout the season. I might be reminiscing about the manager of the 1980s Mets who dealt with a star-studded, young and out-of-control team that was lucky to stay out of jail while they were playing.

Their scrapes with the law (and more) had to wait until their playing careers were over: see Dwight Gooden, Lenny Dykstra, Darryl Strawberry and Wally Backman.

Now he’s having a spring training look at Bryce Harper in center field and is insistent that there’s a legitimate chance that the 19-year-old will make the big league club to start the season.

Can Harper play center field?

Johnson thinks he can and the youngster played 20 games at the position in A-ball last season.

But is it a good idea?

Probably not.

Johnson doesn’t have the greatest history with adhering to reality when he believes in something strongly and that’s a detriment to being a truly great manager. In Johnson’s category of managers are Jim Leyland and Tony LaRussa who at times blindly stuck to failing strategies rather than acknowledge that they were wrong about anything. They clung to decisions they made even if they were hurting the team.

Johnson is the same man who, as manager of the Mets, stuck Kevin Mitchell and Howard Johnson at shortstop; continually wrote Gregg Jefferies’s name in the lineup when he needed to be sent down; put Keith Miller in center field; and absolutely refused to tell Strawberry to move from his Shea Stadium strawberry patch of faded grass which was his position—within a 15 foot radius—against every hitter on every pitch.

Johnson’s ego was part of the reason he was such a successful manager and able to keep that Mets group in line to a certain degree, but it was also part of the reason that most of his teams faltered at the end. Had the 1980s Mets paid a bit more attention to defense and fundamentals rather than starting pitching and home runs, they could’ve won more than one championship.

Johnson needs a rein on his over-the-top calls. It seems that the Nationals are entertaining the thought of having Harper break camp with the big league team.

If they deem him ready physically and especially emotionally; if they feel he can help the team contend, then by all means they should do it. But in center field?

No.

If they bring him North, Jayson Werth can play center field and Harper can play right. With all the scrutiny that will surround him, Harper doesn’t need to be learning a new position for a team that expects to win and a veteran pitching staff hounding him if he fails to make a play that an experienced center fielder would make.

Johnson needs someone to check him. In his other managerial stops, Johnson would be told to do something by upper management, then ignore it when he wrote the lineup cards.

He’s a great manager, but he’s made the same mistakes before. It shouldn’t happen again.

Click here to listen to my appearance with Les Norman on Breakin’ the Norm.

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The Price for McCutchen

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Pirates GM Neal Huntington is making it clear with his between-the-lines statements that he’s willing to trade Andrew McCutchenThe Sporting News.

Given the Pirates circumstances as a perennial laughingstock and that McCutchen would have to be just as overwhelmed to stay long-term as the Pirates would be to trade him, it makes sense to listen to what other clubs have to say.

McCutchen is not closing in on free agency (it’s not until after the 2015 season) and he’s going to be arbitration-eligible until next year. He’s 25, is not reliant on his speed to make a living and he can play center field.

He’s an MVP-quality talent.

It’s somewhat unprecedented for a young, established position player to be available regardless of the demand.

Most of the huge deals for packages of young players that aren’t closing in on free agency involve pitchers. We saw this with the Athletics’ latest housecleaning in dealing Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez. The Rays are always ready to do business with any player on their roster and the Rockies made a bold move in trading Ubaldo Jimenez last summer.

McCutchen is a franchise cornerstone and exactly the type of player for whom an interested club should be willing to overpay as Huntington implies.

Let’s take a look at some big trades that were made with a lot of young talent exchanged for a young position player to get a gauge on circumstances and boundaries.

1982: Indians trade OF Von Hayes to the Phillies for INF Julio Franco, RHP Jay Baller, 2B Manny Trillo, OF George Vukovich and C Jerry Willard.

Hayes was 24 and saddled with the nickname “5 for 1” after the trade, but turned out to be a very good player for the Phillies. He had power and speed and if he played today, he’d be comparable to McCutchen.

Franco was an excellent hitter and lasted in the big leagues until he was 48.

Hayes’s career was over at age 33 after the Phillies had traded him to the Angels in a trade that brought them…Ruben Amaro Jr.

1990: Padres trade 2B Roberto Alomar and OF Joe Carter to the Blue Jays for 1B Fred McGriff and SS Tony Fernandez.

Alomar was 23 and I don’t think anyone predicted he’d blossom into a Hall of Fame player with power. Two old-school GMs—the Padres’ Joe McIlvaine and the Blue Jays’ Pat Gillick—pulled off this drastic maneuver that worked out better for the Blue Jays, but was productive for the Padres. In retrospect, they would have preferred to keep Alomar, but no one knew what Alomar was.

Veteran general managers got together and cobbled out a major trade that helped both sides.

1992: Brewers trade INF Gary Sheffield and RHP Geoff Kellogg to the Padres for RHP Ricky Bones, OF Matt Mieske and INF Jose Valentin.

Sheffield was miserable in Milwaukee, couldn’t handle the expectations and pressure stemming from being in the big leagues at 19 and the nephew of Dwight Gooden. In later years, Sheffield claimed to have intentionally thrown balls wildly from third base as some form of retribution for perceived slights.

Sound familiar?

The self-destructive petulance was chalked up to youth.

It turned out not to be youth. Gary was just Gary and that’s simply what he did.

From age 19-40, Sheffield imploded and exploded in his subsequent stops (six after Milwaukee and San Diego) and alienated anyone and everyone along the way. He got away with it because he could hit for power and get on base—no other reason.

The Brewers got rid of Sheffield because he was a ticking time bomb.

2007: Rays trade OF Delmon Young, INF Brendan Harris and OF Jason Pridie to the Twins for RHP Matt Garza, SS Jason Bartlett and RHP Eddie Morlan.

Young was a former first pick in the draft, but the new Rays front office wouldn’t have drafted him first had they been in charge and were in the process of clearing out players who didn’t behave appropriately—Young had acted up in the minors and majors resulting in suspensions and confrontations with manager Joe Maddon. It helped the decision to move him that they didn’t value what it was he did because he hit a few homers, didn’t get on base and played poor defense in the outfield.

Garza was a young pitcher with a temper similar to Young’s, but that temper was tolerable to get his power arm.

This was a mutual-interest/need deal and not one to clear salary.

Barring free agency, financial constraints and ancillary factors, players like McCutchen are rarely available.

Is he “available”? Or are the Pirates tossing it out there to see if anyone bites and gives up the house?

Teams should inquire and be serious about getting him.

The Royals have the prospects and the need. With McCutchen in center field flanked by Alex Gordon and Jeff Francoeur, their outfield defense would be superlative and their rebuilding process would be sped up markedly.

The Nationals need a center fielder, have the young talent to deal and are looking to improve quickly; the Braves’ farm system is loaded; and the Mets should accept reality and give the fans something to bank on while getting a marquee youngster.

If teams have to overpay, so be it.

For a player like McCutchen, everyone should contact the Pirates and see whether or not they’re serious about moving him. If they ask for seven players including four who are perceived as “can’t miss”, then they’re not serious; if they ask for four or five, then it’s something for an interested club to pursue because McCutchen is worth it.

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Strasburg’s 2012 Innings Limit

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I’m not sure how a team that has designs on contention can regulate the innings of the pitcher upon whom the hopes of the franchise are resting, but that’s what the Nationals intend to do with Stephen Strasburg in 2012.

In this ESPN Story, GM Mike Rizzo doesn’t give an exact number for Strasburg, but you can presume it’s somewhere in the 160-175 range.

That number of innings are fine…for your fourth starter; but what are the Nats going to do for the top three slots in their rotation?

They’re said to be ready to spend some money and be aggressive; the name C.J. Wilson has been mentioned; it’s doubtful they’ll want to ante up the cash to get CC Sabathia if (when) he opts out of his Yankees contract, but it was the Nats who gave Jayson Werth $126 million, so you can never say never.

Jordan Zimmerman isn’t going to be ready to give them 200 innings; John Lannan can and is a nice pitcher, but is certainly not an ace. Can they expect 200 innings from Chien-Ming Wang? Doubtful.

What you’ll have, again, is a team that relies heavily on its bullpen; so heavily that the bullpen might be exhausted as it’s been over the past few years with the reliever-abusive Jim Riggleman running the club; Davey Johnson is more judicious in his handling of pitchers, but if Johnson comes back, I’m curious to see how he handles the Strasburg innings-limit situation.

When he was the Mets manager and Dwight Gooden was a 20-year-old phenom and ace and was in the middle of a historic 1985 season, the club was in a desperate run to make the playoffs; GM Frank Cashen went to Johnson and told him basically, “the kid’s going to pitch nearly 300 innings this year and it’s too much; do something”. Johnson, who never met a GM he couldn’t annoy with his sarcasm and ginormous ego responded by basically saying, “what do you want me to do?” and following up with, “how about you give me a computer printout of how many innings and pitches he’ll be allowed to throw; then by the time he reaches the limit, I can go out to the mound holding the printout, show it to him and pull him?”

Johnson’s mellowed since then and he’s more agreeable to the limits predicated on young pitchers by the front office. Gooden’s situation was 25 years ago. But Johnson still thinks he’s smarter than everyone else and many times, he’s right.

So Strasburg will be limited in what he’s allowed to do next season; but I’m curious if the Nats are in contention in September and Johnson’s managing the team, will he toss those limits out the window to try and win? Or will those parameters be ironclad and adhered to at the expense of a possible playoff spot?

It’s then that we’ll see if Johnson still has his insubordinate managerial fastball and ignores the front office trying to win.

It wouldn’t be the first time. But it might be the last.

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Phillies Sign Jack Cust—Not Sexy But Maybe Important

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Sometimes it’s the understated and ignored acquisition or signing that turns out to be most important.

Eyes rolled at the Giants signing Pat Burrell and claiming Cody Ross last season, but without Burrell and Ross there likely wouldn’t have been a Giants World Series win.

In 1985, the Cardinals made a late-August trade for the stretch run when they acquired Cesar Cedeno for a nondescript minor leaguer named Mark Jackson who never made it to the majors. Cedeno was an unproductive part-timer in the twilight of his career with the Reds before getting to the Cardinals—upon which he went on a tear.

Over that final month in 1985, Cedeno batted .434 in 82 plate appearances with an absurd 1.213 OPS and 6 homers—some of which were game-winners. (I was at the September game in which Dwight Gooden and John Tudor hooked up for a scoreless tie through 9 innings; Cedeno pinch hit in the top of the 10th against Jesse Orosco and homered. Tudor finished the shutout in the bottom of the inning.)

Without Cedeno, the Cardinals would probably not have held the Mets off that September.

In what were essentially “nothing” moves, the Cardinals and Giants made it to the World Series.

It’s not sexy, but the Phillies signing of Jack Cust to a minor league deal could eventually be seen as big.

Cust was a washout with the Mariners this year, but that team is currently a lost cause; he was jerked around by the Athletics after rejuvenating his career with the organization, but the A’s are a farce of their very own with an upcoming feature film to prove it.

The difference with the Phillies is that he’s only going to be asked to do what he does in a limited role rather than as the lone power threat for two desperately short-handed clubs.

What Cust does is hit the ball out of the park; strike out; or walk.

The Phillies home of Citizens Bank Park will be more enticing to him than the vast dimensions of the Oakland Coliseum and Safeco Field, and he can hit a fastball. He murders the Giants’ Matt Cain and can catch up to Brian Wilson‘s fastball or walk if Wilson loses the strike zone.

Much like Matt Stairs‘s towering homer against a 100-mph fastball from Jonathan Broxton spun the 2009 NLCS into the Phillies favor and sent Broxton into a confidence-sapped tailspin from which he’s yet to recover, Cust could perform a similar function of a lefty bat off the bench against the Giants, Braves, Brewers or Cardinals—all potential playoff opponents for the Phillies.

Occasionally, all it takes is the smell of a pennant race to wake up a veteran’s bat. These inexpensive acquisitions wind up being turning points in a championship season without anyone realizing it at the time they were completed and it could be so with the Phillies signing of Cust.

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