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They were going to be the best rotation the Mets ever had. They were going to be the best rotation in Major League history. Flamethrowers…long, flowing hair…superhero nicknames…and now…not a single one is in the Mets starting rotation.
That’s right…with the announcement that Jacob deGrom has been placed on the Injured List with right side inflammation (that’s the current diagnosis), it means that the best rotation the Mets were ever going to have took the path of the last staff to garner that moniker – Generation K. The rotation of deGrom, Syndergaard, Wheeler, Matz, Harvey…has seemingly turned into Isringhausen, Pulsipher, Wilson, and Jones.
In fact, the next one of the recent five to start at CitiField? The Dark Knight returns to Gotham in the black and orange of the Baltimore Orioles. Harvey, of course, was the first one to be cast off in 2018, after 2 ½ seasons of an inability to recover from the devasting loss in the 2015 World Series. He had returned from Tommy John surgery to be effective during the 2015 season before pushing the limit of his innings allowance and then was never showing any resemblance of his former self from the onset of the 2016 season.
The Mets have been victims of the pandemic…and the epidemic. The Mets had the start of their season postponed due to the effects of the pandemic hitting their opponent, the Washington Nationals. And it seems that the Mets have now been hit by the very same epidemic of poor hitting that has affected most of the rest of the Major Leagues thus far this season.
The Mets came into the season with questions about the pitching staff but the one “sure thing” was the power-packed offense that would be taking the field every day. However, other than the start of Brandon Nimmo, the Mets offense has been dreadful.
While the Mets were embarrassingly being swept by the Chicago Cubs, Ron Darling told the story of a comment Kris Bryant made during a pre-game press conference prior to his very first game at Wrigley Field in 2015: “My goal every game is to go out there and hit the ball in the air four times.” Not a single coach I had, and I had some pretty good ones over the years, ever said to me, “Hey Alan, try to hit the ball in the air.” Line drives were the ultimate goal. But with my speed, especially when I was hitting from the left side of the plate, I was just trying to put the bat on the ball and get it on the ground and through the holes.
As Darling said in a follow up to the quote of Bryant, the game has since changed. But has it been for the better?
Okay…stop…it’s ONLY ONE GAME. There are 161 more games to go. But the very first game of the season gives some real insight into what is different…and what is so wrong with baseball today.
I absolutely love the game of baseball because of the thought process. You had to think. You had to position yourself in the field, at the plate, decide which pitch to throw and why. Bring on the computer age. Sure…Davey Johnson was using a computer in the 80’s. But he also went with his gut. Would a computer put a guy like Kevin Mitchell at shortstop? Gil Hodges employed the McCovey shift back in 1969. But if a shift was employed, I recall many times when somebody would simply lay down a bunt…get on base…take what the defense gives you. Whatever happened to all of that? It’s better than striking out, isn’t it?
Jacob deGrom is a true victim in all of this nonsense. He was the least heralded…he really wasn’t heralded at all…among those elite five of Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler and him. In fact…he is the only one of the five left. Syndergaard will hopefully be back from surgery this season and the other three are successfully (for a while anyway) toiling elsewhere.
Sometimes it all comes together. You have a favorite player wearing your favorite number on their uniform jersey. I have loved, absolutely loved, Francisco Lindor since he began his career with the Cleveland Indians. And for the longest time I truly believed he would be yet another one of those opposing players who I would watch and root for, and dream of him playing for the Mets someday. So when the Mets pulled the trigger and brought Lindor to Queens, it was certainly gratifying. And to have him wearing my favorite number on top of that…well…no fan could be happier.
I actually came to love the No. 12, believe it or not, because I really liked the way it looked in the full block style on the old Mets road uniforms when I saw Ken Boswell wearing it. Boswell was not my favorite player, but he was one of my favorites. It bothered me to see it assigned to a guy like Jack Heidemann (I know, who is he?) when he came to the Mets. And I got excited when Lee Mazzilli came up and wore it his first year, and then was disappointed when he swapped numbers with John Stearns and took the No. 16. Some very obscure players wore my No. 12 over the years, although there were some really good players like Tommy Davis, Stearns, Ron Darling, Willie Randolph and Roberto Alomar. Even Cleon Jones, who will forever be associated with No. 21, wore it, after first wearing the No. 34, believe it or not.
So I decided to take a look at the top player at each position who wore No. 12 during his Mets career:
Trade Pete Alonso.
I love the guy. I am a loyal University of Miami Hurricane with deep ties to Hurricanes baseball. And I am a self-proclaimed Gator Hater. So that could put the Kibosh on loving Pete Alonso right there. But I have been able to look past all that Hurricanes vs. Gators rivalry crap enough to truly love and appreciate the guy…as a player and as a person. His hard work and hard-nosed play with passion is a truly welcome vision in a time when most players are brimming with self-entitlement. His engagement with the media and the fans…mature well beyond his years. He is a true darling in every sense of the word.
But let’s face it, the team is constructed poorly. It has been for quite some time. The team has had horrible up the middle defense for years. The Mets best centerfielder – Juan Lagares - has never been able to hit enough to play every day. And while they have tried a number of others who were cast offs from other teams, nobody was able to play well enough to enter the equation as a solution to the centerfield problem.
The ridiculous comments started before the final word even came in. The suspense was killing some, not all, but it was enough to have Twitter going wild especially when one reporter – Bob Nightengale – Tweeted that it was a done deal and the Mets were the benefactors and another reporter – Mark Feinsand – at virtually the same time Tweeted that it was NOT a done deal.
For me, personally, the suspense was more wrapped up in hoping that the Mets would not spend “stupid money” on a pitcher who, in reality, is not a frontline pitcher, not in line with a Jacob deGrom anyway. But to pay the guy almost double what deGrom is getting would be stupid. He ain’t that good and he is a bit nuts. But I’ll come back to that.
I am more amazed at the stupid comments about how the team is still operating in “same old, same old” mode and refusing to spend money. I feel like I have been down this road before…because I have.
April 8, 1974...I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing. I was actually working on a class project for English that I was doing with my friend Dave Cavanaugh. But I was paying more attention to Al Downing throwing a pitch that would ultimately be hit and land beyond the outfield fence in the glove of Tom House.
That project included an audio tape and Dave and I were late with the project and sort of...sort of...told a fib to our teacher about when we had completed the project. What happened on that date was captured on that tape and could be heard in the background. Dave and I were caught by Mrs. Pellecchia. So I am not sure if I remember that event more because of what happened to us...or because of what that event meant to some guy with the quickest wrists I have ever seen - Hammerin' Hank Aaron.
Just when you think things are looking up, you are pulled right back down. We seem to have been down this road before. A year ago, one of my favorite players ever, Carlos Beltran, was hired to be the new Mets manager. Hailed as a smart baseball person, Carlos Beltran jumped on board without any prior managerial experience. Before even getting to spring training, Beltran was fired amidst the exposure of the Houston Astros alleged sign stealing cheating scandal.
New ownership. New philosophy. New ethics. Old-school Marine Sandy Alderson is brought back to take the reigns and steer the team into a new era. A young upstart is brought in to be the team’s general manager after stints with the Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, and Arizona Diamondbacks learning under the tutelage of Theo Epstein. And before even getting to his first spring training…fired.
Jared Porter, considered to be a young upstart in the field at 41 years old, with an understanding of the new methods in baseball…like sabermetrics and computer analytics…apparently didn’t have an understanding of baseball’s (and society’s) emergence from the dark ages. I have warned my kids, and the students I taught in college communications classes about posting on the internet, texting, and other forms of communication that are not appropriate and, once out there, can come back to bite you. But even before this modern age of communication, we were supposed to have all learned that “no” meant “no.”
It’s exciting to begin the new era with such fervor, including a blockbuster trade with the Cleveland Indians to get an All Star the caliber of Francisco Lindor. Lindor comes to the Mets along with front line starter Carlos Carrasco in exchange for the two talented players who were to be vying for the starting shortstop job in 2021 – Amed Rosario and Andres Gimenez – along with a couple of prospects. Lindor is the prize, the impact player the Mets coveted and needed.
He is 27 years old, is a four-time All Star, two-time Gold Glover and one of the best all-around players in baseball. He may be coming off a down year that saw him hit .258 with eight home runs in the shortened season, but he averaged 34 homers with a .278 batting average and .856 OPS from 2017-19. The downside of it…Lindor can be a free agent after the season.
Carrasco…the proverbial “throw in” in the deal, is 33 years old, and was the 2020 American League Comeback Player of the Year, returning from a chronic myeloid leukemia diagnosis to start 12 games for the Indians with a 2.91 ERA. We’ve been down this road before with the Indians. Lest we forget that the Mets fans got their hopes up when some pretty good All Star second basemen made their way to Flushing…only to flop.
When I was the host of my first call-in radio talk show, I had a caller who said, “I think the rules in baseball are dumb.” And I asked, “What do you mean?” The caller responded, “Well, in baseball they say that if you have four balls you walk, right?” I said, “Yes.” The caller said, “Well that is dumb. How can anybody walk with four balls?”
Regardless that that caller was a crank caller…and he was just trying to get me off my game…which he did as I was unable to maintain my composure for some time afterwards…all these years later…he would be right. The rules have become somewhat odd, to the point where it is hard to recognize the national pastime.
The 2020 season, using Covid-19 as an excuse, became a testing ground as Major League Baseball decided to alter the game, modify it, even more than they have over the last few decades.