Thursday, June 19, 2008

It was just time for the guru to move on

I was alerted of the news that the Mets fired their manager Willie Randolph when my phone vibrated at 6 am that morning. A friend of mine who will remain nameless (since I still hold that he has no life for texting me at 6 am) texted me to tell me that the Mets fired Willie Randolph Rick Peterson and Tom Nieto. Naturally the first thing that popped into my head was “who the fuck is Tom Nieto?” My next question was why my friend couldn’t wait till 9 or even 10:00 to share the news rather then wake me up at 6. But anyway I’m not here to sit and right a whole long post blasting the Mets for firing Willie Randolph. I’m not really going to write a long thing with my opinion on the matter. I will just say this, I think Willie got fired for the wrong reasons and was having blame unfairly put on him. He did his job the past week and the bullpen blew it for him. However I do think that Willie has clearly lost the ability to inspire this team, and that shows with the team’s abysmal record since June of last season.

I’ve had an argument with a certain bezzy monster who wrote out his long opinion on this move which can be read here
So the focus of this is to just write out my side of the argument, the argument had nothing to do with Willie Randolph (I happen to agree with everything he said about Willie as well as first base coach Tom Nieto) but rather had to do with pitching coach Rick Peterson. While my friend Mr. Bezerman believes it’s a travesty for Rick Peterson to be let go is it possible he lost his touch? I will not argue that he is a good pitching coach, the Mets have had the 4th best era while he’s been here and that’s been great but isn’t it possible he’s lost his touch. He came over with a very nice pedigree having worked with the “Big 3” in Oakland (Zito, Mulder, and Hudson). But early on in his Mets career he was the backbone to what would become the worst trade in Mets history, ultimately costing the GM his job and making the Mets the butt of all Scott Kazmir jokes for quite some time. Peterson took a look at Devil Rays pitcher Victor Zambrano and said “I could fix him in 10 minutes,” causing the Mets to trade #1 prospect Scott Kazmir to Tampa for Zambrano. Well Zambrano looked like he was making a good improvement in his last two starts with the Mets before getting injured (including his last start with a great line of 1.1 IP 4k’s, then walking off the field) but those last two starts came after a year and a half of constant walks and inconsistency. Meanwhile Kazmir has been growing into a top pitcher in Tampa; in fact writing on the subject is getting me mad that I’m just going to stop. He also was able to work with Tom Glavine and completely change the way Glavine pitched, enabling Glavine to add on about 3 years to his career and it enabled him to win 300 games. However this also enabled Glavine to become our “ace” which led to him being on the mound for that final game against Florida last year…again another sore spot that I’ll just stop. During his tenure with the Mets he has worked wonders with some pitchers, namely Oliver Perez and John Maine, there’s no argument as to what he did with them in the past, but there is one to say that he just doesn’t have it anymore.

Again my argument here is simple, its not that Peterson wasn’t great, but rather it was time for him to go. He worked very closely with John Maine during the 2006 season and worked very closely with Perez once the Mets traded for him. He worked with them well enough that they were trusted with the ball in games 6 and 7 respectively of the NLCS that season, and both pitchers turned in masterful performances. Perez has had a nasty slider his whole career but has been plagued with inconsistency; however Peterson worked very close with Perez last season on keeping his mechanics the same way and Perez responded by winning 15 games, no doubt from Peterson’s help. But here’s the question, what has happened this year? All of a sudden Perez’s inconsistency is back and he randomly decides to improvise on his own, often leading him into trouble. As Mets announcers talk about how that’s something Rick Peterson does NOT want to see I must ask why is Ollie doing this and why can’t Rick get him to stop? Perez’s mechanics and arm angles have been all over the place this year, shouldn’t Peterson have taken him right from spring training and picked up right where they left off last year. When watching Perez pitches this year it’s as if his tremendous year last year never happened.
Maine this season hasn’t regressed as badly this season, as Perez has, but he hasn’t been the John Maine of 2007. Is that Peterson’s fault, I don’t know but he clearly hasn’t been able to help him as much this year. Another alarming stat is newcomer Johan Santana has arrived to the Mets and began his first year with Peterson. The Johan of 2008 however has served up an alarming rate of Home Runs to opposing hitters, again can’t blame it on Peterson, but a pitching coach is supposed to help figure these problems out and get rid of them and that hasn’t seemed to happen. People also like to bring up that he did a great job with reliever Aaron Heilman while with the Mets. I have no evidence that he did anything great with Heilman, all I could say is let’s just look at how the guy who is supposed to be our 7th or 8th inning guy is walking around with a 5.45 era and whenever he comes into a game I could confidently shut the game off knowing he’ll blow the lead. Now yes the Mets starting pitching has had a tremendous era, especially recently where they have been very good, even Mike Pelfrey who might have actually found his game has been lights out. But a pitching coach is not only in charge of the starters but also the relievers, and the Mets bullpen lately has been DREADFUL. It looks almost as if Peterson has never paid any attention to them. The bottom line is, when you get gems out of Mike Pelfrey and Johan Santana on back to back days, Pelfrey pitching into the 9th and then handing the ball off to his closer who blows the save, and then blows another one the next day. The Mets got the ball to their closer with a lead in the 9th inning two days in a row and he didn’t come through. Before that, the bullpen had been horrendous in San Diego and have continued to struggle in Anaheim (or Los Angeles as the Angels like to be called), but getting the ball to the closer in the 9th inning is what a manager is supposed to do. If the bullpen not coming through cost the manager his job, then the pitching coach deserves to be fired also. I’m not saying Peterson isn’t a good coach and I’m not saying that I don’t think the Mets will miss him, but this year it just strikes me as that something just wasn’t there, and it was time for him to move on.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Kobe Bryant just needs to shut up...and lay low for a while, no rapes

When does it become appropriate to join a team for a championship? As a fan I almost find it hypocritical that at times I’m rooting for the players that left their teams and went to contenders, and at times I strongly hate the players that leave their teams. I thought about this as I was watching the Boston Celtics thrash the Lakers to win their 17th NBA title. As I was rooting for the Celtics to beat Kobe I began wondering, Kevin Garnett left the team that took him out of high school, he was the star of the team, the face of the franchise did he just quit and give up on the wolves and say I can’t do it.
There are plenty of instances where a player is hated for quitting on his team. We’ve blasted A-Rod for signing a record breaking deal with last place Texas, only to say, “I can’t do it all by myself” and forcing a trade to the Red Sox, and when that fell through a trade to the Yankees. The same can be said about a certain Randy Moss who signed a large contract with the Raiders only to say “I can’t do this” and move to the Patriots. The icing on the cake here is to say that to date neither of the two have won championships. In fact both of them were involved in some pretty nice choke jobs. A-Rod and his Yankees blowing a 3-0 lead against the Red Sox, including his famous slapping the ball out of Bronson Arroyo’s hand in game 6. Moss went to join Tom Brady with the patriots and went on a record setting season, only the numbers he’ll see the most next season are 18-1… as the patriots choked and couldn’t win the Super Bowl.
I’m no fan of NBA, I’d much prefer the college game, but the NBA does manage to provide some good examples. This year Jason Kidd provided himself as a distraction to the Nets even skipping a practice because of a “migraine.” I followed the Nets when they would make their deep playoff runs earlier this decade and when I would attend games I enjoyed watching Kidd play. So much to say when Kidd came out and said it was time for him and the Nets to move on the Nets followed through and traded him to Dallas. When a player is the center piece of his team and carries them to a championship or close to it, he earns a place in every fans heart. The best example I could think of is Mets catcher Mike Piazza. We were bad when he came and he was beginning of the turnaround, he brought us to the 2000 world series where we lost to our cross-town rival Yankees (you could read about their training regime in full detail in the Mitchell Report). Even though we didn’t win he was the face of the franchise for 8 years, we loved him, he left because he was old and we simply needed to go in a new direction. However he never left our hearts, when he returned to Shea the game was delayed for a minute and half before his first at-bat as he was given a standing ovation. He was given another one late in the game after a base hit. He was given a third the next day when he hit a home run, against us. In the 70’s when the Rangers traded away fan favorite goaltender Eddy Giacomin his first game with the Red Wings was at the Garden against the Rangers. That game saw the entire Garden rooting for Eddy and the Wings, even booing when the Rangers scored. So yes, Kidd was the face of the franchise for the Nets, he took them to the finals twice, but he left on bad terms, and blasted the team in the process. This woke me, the most casual NBA fan that there is to wake up and immediately hope Kidd would go to Dallas and they would miss the playoffs.
So I think to myself when is it alright to be rooting for the player who left his team. You root against Kidd and hope he doesn’t win after screwing over the Nets, but everyone in Boston, (rather every NHL fan other then stupid and low-life Devils fans) rooted for Ray Bourque to win the cup with Colorado, not the Bruins. So, what made these Celtics different that I could accept that I was rooting for Pierce Garnett and Allen to win the title? Pierce and Allen are easily explained as Pierce is a lifelong Celtic and lived through some bad years and clearly deserved it. Allen was traded to the Celtics, but also had played for a few different teams and didn’t have a signature team. What put everything into perspective was with about a minute left in the game Mike Breen said it simply, Boston’s “Big 3” had put their personal stats aside for the benefit of the team.
I said before I’m not a fan of the NBA, rather the college game is what I will watch. The answer is simple; college basketball is real basketball, 5 on 5, a team playing against another team playing as a team. The NBA is built around superstars who are all for their own stats and play for themselves. They take the most money which doesn’t allow their team to go out and find other good players. But it’s very boring to watch, how often do you want to watch LeBron take 5 steps through the lane with no travel call. The “Big 3” gave up their personal stats to play as a team, and in game 6, they played very exciting team basketball. On the losing side is the exact problem with the NBA, Kobe Bryant. Kobe won three titles with the Lakers with Shaq on his team before arguing that he couldn’t play with Shaq because his stats were suffering. As Kobe is finding out now it is defiantly easier to win with a dominant center. And Shaq has proved he could win without Kobe, but Kobe is starting to find out, he might have the best stats in the NBA, he might be the MVP, he might even be one of the best players ever to play the game, but he can’t win a title on his own.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Season After Season - Heartbreak: Yet I Can't Wait For More! Part II

If you were to ask anyone who was on Camp Monroe’s Stanley cup hockey team while I was the captain they will all agree on one thing. In fact almost anyone who has ever met me will agree on this. I seem to have an issue of running my mouth to much. Once I get rolling on a subject, it never ends and the words just keep coming right out of my mouth. After looking at the length of my first post as well as the length of part II it is apparent that I have that problem with writing as well.
I spent my first post wondering why I love sports so much when based off the teams that I support every year is filled with heartbreak. Of course I wrote it after the Mets had beaten the Dodgers 6-1 and had won 5 of there last 6 seemingly getting manager Willie Randolph off of the hotseat. Of course the Mets came back the following night and put Oliver Perez on the mound who gave us an astonishing outing, giving up 6 runs on 6 hits and 2 walks in a glorious 1/3 of an inning. This killing of optomism in just the first inning just re-enforces the question of what makes it all worth it? However whats most ironic is that this event that makes one question what makes it all worth was occuring simultaniously as another event that provides the perfect answer to the question. While Oliver Perez was busy giving up hit after hit, run after run to the lowly Giants the Detroit Red Wings were involved in a game 5 battle with the Penguins for the Stanley Cup. What makes it worth it? Trailing the series 3-1 the penguins needed a win to send the series back to to Pittsburgh, after getting off to a 2-0 lead Detroit stormed back to take a 3-2 lead. The final few minutes of the third period coincided with the bottom of the first in the Mets game. While Oliver Perez was losing all the optomism in Mets camp, Pittsburgh was staging a thrilling battle throwing everything they had at the Red Wings and scoring with 35 seconds left to send the game into overtime. Two and half overtimes and one Petr Sykora called shot later Pittsburgh was celebrating on Detroits us as they took game 5 to force a game 6 in Pittsburgh extending their season just that much. When Oliver Perez was making us question why, the Penguins and Red Wings showed us just one example of what its really all about, what keeps us going.

Its about the anticipation, the excitement. Its about not paying attention in class to follow all the action on opening day. Its about walking into the garden before a game. Its about how the Garden shakes and the baloons fly during the national anthem before a playoff game. Its about singing the goal song after every goal, its about POTVIN SUCKS! Its about playoff hockey in general, its about 5 overtime games that don't end till 3 in the morning. Its about how Gus Johnson is at a loss for words after a big 3 in the NCAA tournement, about how Davidson sent their entire student body to the sweet 16 and elite 8 to support their team. Its about how a Latin American country ordered someone to write words for their national anthem so that their athletes would have something to sing along to just like athletes from all the other countries.

Its about how Sports has the power to gather a whole nation together.
After 9/11 seeing football players running onto the field with American flags, but of course nothing better then Mike Piazza’s 2 run homer to beat the rival Braves in the first sporting event to be held in New York after the attacks, this homer not only won the game for the Mets, but it let New Yorkers know that things would be ok. I love the optimism that comes with every pre-season, when on opening day everyone is in first place. After all sports gives us the chance to analyze and over analyze the game over and over again. As many people could attest to, one of my greatest joys in life is over analyzing, whether it is sports or TV, or movies. Sports memories will always remain in our minds more then almost anything else. I will always remember Marek Malik rising from anonymity and coming up with a through the legs shot in the 15th round of a shootout to beat the capitals. I will always remember Endy Chavez’s 6th inning catch of what should have been a Scot Rolen home run in game 7 of the 2006 NLCS. I will always remember attending a remarkable pitchers duel between Pedro Martinez and Brandon Webb, a brilliant 1-0 13 inning win for the Mets, and along with the game I will remember Lastings Milledge’s lazer throw from right field to throw out a runner trying to go from first to third. I will always remember being ready to fall down beaten when John Terry stepped up to the penalty spot in the Champions League final, only to miss and give Manchester United new life, and eventually the win.

I love the power that a great game has over us. When I was studying for a final one night i came across the Jets-Dolphins monday night miracle game. I immediatly dropped the studying so i could watch the Jets play so poorly for 3 quarters only to rally and come back from a 30-7 4th quarter deficit. The rally of course being capped off by a 4th down touchdown catch from offensive lineman Jumbo Elliot.

I loathe how the 1998-2004 New York Rangers provided the blueprint on how to create fan excitement in the pre-season and never win anything by signing aging overrated veterans. But with that, I love how the 2001+ New York Yankees have decided to copy that strategy and forgo winning the World Series year after year.

Though I mentioned before my favorite teams and how they never fail to constantly let me down I purposely left one out for the reason that one of my favorite teams is not a perennial loser but rather the opposite.. I happen to be a huge fan of English Football and though my friend from across the pond will always accuse me of being a front runner for my “choice” of supporting Manchester United. I will just quickly clear up how this was not a choice, I followed the local MLS team, the MetroStars for half a season and at the end of the season their goalie Tim Howard went to United and I followed him over there and was quickly won over by a certain boy Ronaldo and a boy wonder Wayne Rooney. To this day I have not forgotten about Howard as I still follow him at Everton, (because of Howard and my close ties with a certain Andy McLindon). The drama of football provides some of the best sports environments you can have. I will always love waking up at 8:30 on a Sunday morning to watch United play, or skipping out on my bitch of a math teacher Mrs. Staum’s Tuesday math class to go home and watch United in the Champions League.

When rumors broke out that superstar Cristiano Ronaldo was contemplating a summer move to Real Madrid the feeling that football could now join the list of teams that give me heartbreaking endings. This thought became even more real when during the penalty shootout of the Champions League final Ronaldo stepped up to the spot where he had been so consistent all season, and missed. It was in the moments after the Ronaldo penalty miss when I was truly reminded why I love sports so much. Nicholas Anelka of Chelsea would have his shot saved by United goalkeeper Edwin Van Der Sar. The euphoric celebration began as all the player on Manchester United ran to their goalkeeper and fans to celeberate. All but one player that is, Cristiano Ronaldo never left the midfield circle as he fell and cried, so happy that his teammates had bailed him out. It was what happened next that was truly great. Manchester United captain Gary Neville who had missed all but 20 minutes of the season with a knee injury ran out to midfield and with the new owner of United’s career appearance record, fellow teammate Ryan Giggs together they lifted Ronaldo up from the ground and brought him to his celebrating teammates. To some thats what its about, crying because one is so happy that their not the goat, when everyone expects you to be the one to come through and you don't, that you let your teamates down. But that these same teamates are able to lift you up first by overcoming your mistake to win, and then literally pick you up off the ground to let you know its ok that you missed, we won, lets go celebrate. It was then that I remembered the brotherhood that is shared by teammates and the bonds they form with their fans. The act of picking Ronaldo up of the ground squashed the rumors of him leaving the club to go to Real Madrid. It’s the sense of hope that our teams give us, and the sense of promise that if were there for the lows, our teams will repay us and give us highs.

I love sports for its ways of picking everyone up and uniting them around the world. For the Ivory Coast who in the midst of a civil war could call for a truce so the whole country could be united in supporting their country in the world cup. For giving us reasons to yell and scream and taunt other people. But most importantly, for the bonds that form over friend supporting the same team, the hourly discussions about your team when you should be doing work, and of course the chance that at any moment it will give you another memory that you will never forget.

Season After Season - Heartbreak: Yet I Can't Wait For More! Part I

I have always thought about starting a blog but never really got around to doing it. Partially because I would not be able to think of a catchy title and partially because despite the fact that I think I’m funny all of my friends could attest to the fact that truly I am not a funny person, and who wants to read a blog that is not funny? But after some tough persuation from a certain bezzy monster I was convinced to finally start one. But what could I write about? Mr. Bezerman said to just have one and when something pops into your head to just write about it, or write about important things in your life. Well one of the central parts of my life has been sports. Sports offers some of the most amazing times and amazing memories, but along with all the good, it also has crushing losses and heartbreaks, which begs the question, why do I love sports so much?
As a fan of the New York Mets, New York Rangers and New York Jets, coming up short has almost become a routine in life. At the end of almost every season I find myself reading Page 2 columnists Jeff Pearlman’s Loving sports, from Greg Butler to Sweet Lou to Niko Noga, an article written about why he loves sports.
The question remains, why do I love Sports? As a fan of the aforementioned teams I have lived through only one championship in my lifetime, the 1994 Rangers Stanley cup win, but even this was when I was too young to even care about sports. With those teams ruling my life I have become very accustomed to failure. The first season I remember of Jets football finished with a dismal 1-15 record. When I became old enough to start caring about sports and actually following teams, I saw the Rangers beat the Devils in 5 games only to lose to the Flyers in 5 games, and then fail to make the playoffs for another 8 years and not winning another playoff game until 9 years later.
However no team has managed to let me down more then the beloved New York Mets. When the Mets finally made the playoffs as a wild card in 1999 they faced the Braves in the NLCS. Though I was too young to stay up and watch every game that year, they threw me a bone by having a late Sunday afternoon game. 14 innings later Robin Ventura came up with the bases loaded and hit his famous “Grand Slam Single” getting all Mets fans excited for what could happen. What happened next? In game 6 the Braves had bases loaded in the bottom of the 10th inning and Kenny Rodgers threw ball four to walk in the winning run just as Bobby Bonilla was putting down the 9 of diamonds in his card game with Rickey Henderson in the Mets clubhouse. That was it, seasons over, ending on a bases loaded walk. The following season the Mets rolled over the Cardinals in the NLCS to get everyone excited for Subway Series, one controversial game 1 call later, and the Mets were never even in the series losing in 5.
The Mets weren’t heard from again until 2006, when the team strolled through the regular season, leading their division on all but one day of the season, the second game when Jorge Julio blew a late lead. The team looked like a lock to head to the World Series and probably to win it. After sweeping the Dodgers in the first round, they faced the Cardinals who had the worst record out of all the teams in the playoffs. It looked as if the Mets were to take a 2-0 series lead until right fielder Shawn Green misplayed a fly ball in the 8th inning changing the entire series. The Mets fell down 3-2 and needed to beat former Cy Young award winner Chris Carpenter in game 6. After a masterful performance by rookie John Maine the Mets were forced to send Oliver Perez to the mound in game 7. Perez who had been labeled “the worst game 7 starter in history” delivered a masterful performance for 5 and third innings. When Willie Randolph came out to talk to him he decided to leave him in the game to face Scot Rolen. On the next pitch Rolen hit a bomb to left field and every Met fan immediately wished Perez had come out of the game. We then witnessed what could be the greatest postseason catch in playoff history when Endy Chavez leaped and got his elbow over the wall to bring the ball back into the park and throw to first for the double play. This was the highest of highs, there was no way we could lose now, until an inning later Yadier Molina was able to hit one just about 15 feet further for the homerun. We were able to get some hope back when the Mets loaded the bases for Carlos Beltran in the 9th. When Beltran fell behind 0-2 the entire world knew that curveball was coming, that is except for Beltran who would go down looking. And that was it, our season ending when our highest played player failed to swing his bat. As the Mets fans filed out of Shea Stadium the line “wait till next year” made famous by the Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1950’s became the common phrase.
When next year came around the Mets got off to a hot start and looked like they were going to take their second division title in a row. After a bad run at the end of August including a four game sweep by the Phillies the Mets responded by winning 7 out of 9. What happened next was the worst collapse in baseball history. The Mets blew a 7 game lead with 17 games left in the season. When the phillies took a 1 game lead with two games left hope restored when John Maine carried a no-hitter into the 7th inning to get the Mets back into first place. The entire season came down to one game, I spent hours trying to find tickets to get to this game, this is what it was all about. Two hours before the game I got a call from a friend telling me to just get to Shea Stadium and there would be tickets waiting for me. I arrived at the game 7 minutes late, and when I got to my seat and saw the Marlins had the bases loaded and already scored 3 runs. That was it 7 runs given up in 1/3 of an inning by our “ace” Tom Glavine. The Mets of course love giving us fans false hope and that came in the bottom of the first inning when having already scored one run, backup catcher Ramon Castro came to the plate. Castro was having a career year and seemed to hit a home run every eight at bats. Unfortunately he had homered during his last at bat the day before. Castro hit a bomb with the bases loaded and for a moment the entire stadium had thought it was a grand slam and the Mets would be back in the game. The ball died on the warning track and with the Mets season.
I had spent hours just trying to figure out how to get tickets for this game. 15 minutes later I was crushed, walking out of Shea Stadium wondering why I invest so much time into this team when all they do is let me down. Why I invest so much time into sports when every season just ends in heartbrake? That seems to be the best question, what is it about sports that make sports fans keep coming back year after year?

Part II coming