A Yankee Fan On Screens Big And Small

CaviezelJim Caveziel has played a legendary golfer (Bobby Jones), has traded hoops time with the likes of John Stockton and others (from his time growing up in the state of Washington), spent hours listening to John Wooden (who coached his dad at UCLA), and now plays legendary high school coach Bob Ladoceur in the upcoming film When The Game Stands Tall.

Yet for his wide ranging connections to sport, baseball seemed to be in the distance for the current star of “Person of Interest.”  However that could not be further from the truth, as we learned when the veteran actor took the stage in June at, of all places, Yankee Stadium for the Beyond Sport Conference.

Caveziel was joined by ESPN’s Kevin Negandhi to talk about the values that sport played in his life, especially with the roles he has engaged in during a prosperous career, and baseball fit well into the conversation.

“It’s quite amazing to be at Yankee Stadium, when you think about the history and tradition of what this team stands for,” Caveziel said. “Right now I get to play a legendary coach at the high school level in Bob Ladouceur, and when you compare that to the legendary coaches that have worn the pinstripes—Joe Torre, Casey Stengel, Billy Martin, Joe McCarthy—it’s nice to be even associated with such legends by being here and talking about their craft.”

The feature, which comes out in late August nationwide, is about De La Salle High School in Northern California, and tells the story of how the team put together the longest winning streak in sports history under Ladouceur, but then had to find its way back to moral, academic and personal success after a series of tragedies rocked the team. Directed by Thomas Carter, the film is much more about the values of team and the challenges of everyday life than the glitz and glamour associated with elite athletics on every level. Caviezel, along with co-stars like Laura Dern, Michael Chiklis and Clancy Brown, bring the positives and the negatives of those life lessons home.

“It is a film about a high school football team, yes, but the message transcends sports, and I’m sure will resonate with any coach or parent who has had to deal with the issues we have in life,” Caviezel added. “However I think for elite coaches who have had success, the message can be even greater, because maintaining that level of success and the pressure you have placed on yourself and your team can be very daunting. It’s something you see and understand at Yankee Stadium for sure, with all those banners hanging. There are a lot of ghosts looking down on the team, and keeping that tradition alive can be very taxing.”

While growing up a Mariners fan in the Pacific Northwest, Caveziel always admired the Yankees tradition and now as he makes his home in New York, he has come to call the Yankees more of his team, both for their success on the field and the way they carry themselves in the community.

“Just being in the stadium and looking out onto that field brings such a sense of awe, and when you factor in what has gone n on the field, and how a person like Derek Jeter carries himself in his life, it’s pretty inspiring,” he added. “Plus you factor in all the former Mariners who have come to New York and seen success, from Ichiro to Randy Johnson and on and on, and it’s hard not to get caught up in all that the Yankees are about, even for someone who has such deep ties to Seattle.”

So while fans will see Caveziel as a high school coach in the coming weeks, could there be a baseball story in the future as well? “Sports as a theme in entertainment can be very powerful when done right as a metaphor for life,” he added. “I think people will see that in When The Game Stands Tall, and there certainly are any number of baseball stories that fit the mold, so who knows what the future brings. It certainly would be interesting to see what’s out there, and I’d welcome the challenge if the timing and the story fit.”

But for now, Yankee fans can take pride in seeing one of theirs as a star both on TV, and now in an upcoming film on a legendary coach.

 

‘Big Papi’ Documentary Debuts on Epix Thursday

Ortiz-SmileAfter parts of six years with the Minnesota Twins, David Ortiz hadn’t distinguished himself as anything near the player and personality he would become. Released by the Twins after what had been his best season in 2002 (.272/.339/.500; 20 HR, 75 RBI), the 26-year-old signed with Boston, and the legend of “Big Papi” was born.

Twelve stellar years later, though Yankees fans would be loath to admit it, the slugger has Hall of Fame credentials, and his string of success while with the Red Sox includes a home run crown, two RBI titles, countless huge clutch hits and, most importantly, three World Series victories.

There has been some controversy along the way, involving enhancing drugs and clashes with the media, but there is no doubt that “Papi” is loved in Boston, and he’s been a polarizing figure everywhere else.

The EPIX Original Documentary, David Ortiz In The Moment, offers baseball fans in and around “Red Sox Nation” a close-up look at Ortiz’s life. The special, produced by Relativity Sports in conjunction with Major League Baseball Productions, traces Ortiz’s path from The Dominican Republic to stardom and lets us into “Big Papi’s” world.

David Ortiz In the Moment makes its World Television Premiere on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

Yankees Promote Wheeler, Option Solarte

The Yangervis Solarte experiment has hit a detour in the Bronx, as the 26-year-old rookie who got off to such a rousing start for the Bombers in the first two months of the season was optioned to AAA Scranton-Wilkes Barre today in the first of what may be more moves to come.

Infielder Zelous Wheeler, similar to Solarte in that he has played his entire eight-year career in the minors, was added to the big league roster for the first time.

Solarte (.260/.343/.393) has played in 63 games for New York this year, primarily at third base. He has seen his playing time decline as he slumped over the past month.

Wheeler, 27, has played four defensive positions this year for Scranton, primarily third and shortstop, and sports a .299/.367/.467 slash line with 7 home runs and 31 RBI.

Infielder Dean Anna, who hit .136 in 22 at bats earlier this season for the Yankees after being acquired in the off season from San Diego, was designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster.

The First MLB Drug Test And The Other Side Of Branch Rickey

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I was the first player drug-tested in baseball, and I am the one who asked for it.” – Babe Dahlgren

The Baseball Writers Association of America’s stance on The Steroid Era is well-known. They have made that very clear. There are folks on both sides of the issue. Many feel that the lack of evidence supporting the exclusion of players like Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell from the Baseball Hall of Fame based on rumors that they may have used PEDs, is an injustice.

We also live in an era where it is hard to imagine people choosing integrity over the millions of dollars to be made with the popping of a pill or the injecting of a needle. These players may indeed be innocent, and if they are, they have the power, resources and platform to defend themselves.

Some other players never got that opportunity.

There was another player who once took a drug test, the first one in known baseball history. It was paid for by then-MLB commissioner Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis, and it came back clean. For some reason, Landis and several of the commissioners that followed him, refused to make the results public, or provide that player with some level of justice.

Instead, former MLB All-Star Babe Dahlgren, once considered the best fielding first baseman in baseball, was sentenced to a life as a baseball vagabond.  Even after his playing days, he was plagued with the inaction of a baseball industry that had turned its back on him a long time before.

The whole story is chronicled in the book, Rumor In Town: A Grandson’s Promise to Right a Wrong, written by Dahlgren’s grandson, Matt Dahlgren.

Sadly, two of the most respected figures in baseball history played a large role in Dahlgren’s misery, and it is perhaps that reality which is responsible for the lack of coverage and discussion of these events.

From Gotham Baseball’s Spring 2011 Issue, “Going Nine: The Other Babe”

“The guy can do everything, and I have a hunch that he invents plays as he goes along. If an old-timer were to swear to me on a stack of testaments that there was every a greater defensive first baseman than Ellsworth ‘Babe’ Dahlgren of the Yankees I wouldn’t believe him.” John Lardner, The New Yorker, June 13, 1940

According to Matt Dahlgren, Babe was also the victim of a vicious rumor; he was a marijuana smoker. Mike Lynch of Seamheads.com summarized it best, stating that the rumor was “started by a Hall Of Fame manager, perpetuated by a Hall of Fame executive, and buried by a Hall Of Fame Commissioner.”

Dahlgren started his career in the Boston Red Sox farm system and was poised to become the team’s first baseman until the Bosox acquired the Philadelphia A’s slugger Jimmie Foxx.  It seemed a trade to another team made the best sense. However, he was dealt to an even worse situation; the Yankees, where Lou Gehrig was entrenched. Determined to prove that he belonged, Dahlgren took his game to the Yankees’ top farm team in Newark in 1937, where he hit. 340 for the Bears, one of the greatest minor league champions in baseball history.

He would make the Yankees in 1938 as a utility man, but played in just 27 games, mostly as a pinch-hitter. In 1939, he would make the most of an opportunity he desperately wanted, he just hated the way it happened.

Replacing Gehrig, Dahlgren hit a home run, a double off the top of the fence and two drives that were caught against the fence in a 22-2 rout over Detroit.

“I especially admired Gehrig because he was a first baseman like me,” Dahlgren told Newsday’s Joe Gergen in 1988. “I never dreamed one day I’d be in New York to take the man’s place.”

He would hit only .235 that year for the Yanks, but he would hit 15 home runs and drive in 89 runs batting seventh or eighth in a powerful lineup. In the World Series that year, Dahlgren would hit his only World Series home run, helping the Yankees sweep the Reds. The future looked bright for the 27-year old Dahlgren. Then he went home to San Francisco, and his life would never be the same.

According to the book, Bay Area legend Lefty O’Doul hated the fact the Joe McCarthy, and not he, was the manager of the New York Yankees. He was often telling anyone who would listen that “Ol’ Marse Joe” was a push-button manager and that “anyone could manage the Yankees”. An Associated Press photographer took a picture of Dahlgren receiving “batting tips” from O’Doul at an off-season workout (the reality was that they barely talked that day). Combine the cracks that O’Doul made that day to the media in attendance like, “The Yankees have to send me their players to learn how to hit.” was the killer. The Yankee manager may have been a legend, be he was also was a thin-skinned person, as well as a heavy drinker. Throw in the fact that the now-veteran first baseman was very well-liked by his teammates and the local press, there was the makings of a very bad situation.

Dahlgren had another solid year in 1940, hitting .263 / 12/ 73, and played a brilliant first base, but when the Yankees did not win the pennant. McCarthy seemed to blame Dahlgren, citing a key error down the stretch that cost the Yankees a ball game.

He was sent to the Boston Braves in 1941, was dealt midway in that season to the Cubs, where he really played well, hitting .263 / 23/ 89 for the season. While Dahlgren was having the best year of his career to date, McCarthy was telling the New York sportswriters – who all liked Dahlgren and thought he was a superb first baseman and were watching Johnny Sturm hit just .235 with no power and nowhere near the glove – that Dahlgren’s arms were too short to play first base.

Really.

The longer the season wore on, the longer it looked to the media like McCarthy must have had a personal beef with Dahlgren, and the writers pressed McCarthy on the trade. Now, remember, it was the 1941 season, and Joe DiMaggio was setting his magical streak and Ted Williams was hitting .406 for the Red Sox. Though sad he had left the Yankees, Dahlgren was happy in Chicago, playing well and finally getting the accolades he deserved.

Then, almost instantly, Dahlgren would spend the rest of his career as a talented and mysterious vagabond. In 1942, he would get traded from Chicago to St. Louis to Brooklyn (where Branch Rickey would accuse him of smoking marijuana, the first time Dahlgren would hear of the rumor) to Philadelphia (where he became an All-Star) to Pittsburgh (where he would drive in 101 runs and hit .289 in 1944) and finally back to St. Louis, where he would finally be discarded.

In the midst of the incredulous rumor, Dahlgren informed then-Commissioner Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis of the rumor, and the Judge, according to the book, paid all the expenses for what would prove to be a “clean” drug test for Dahlgren. But Landis and every subsequent Commissioner – up until his death in 1996 – failed to address Babe’s cause.

Dahlgren also died not knowing who had started the rumor. He had always assumed that it was Rickey, because of the way the situation had played out. It wasn’t until his grandson Matt, who wanted to write the manuscript that would become “Rumor in Town” (Babe’s original manuscript, as well as a letter from Landis proving the rumor existed, were lost in a fire at Babe’s home in 1980), that the origin of the rumor surfaced.

Dahlgren was doing research for his book when someone suggested that Marty Appel, arguably the preeminent Yankees historian, might be the person to provide stories about his father.

Appel told him about a conversation he had with New York Times sportswriter John Drebinger in 1973, recalling McCarthy talking to a small group of baseball insiders at the end of the 1940 season. Drebinger, Appel remembered, recalled that McCarthy was griping that he Yankees would have won the pennant in 1940 had it not been for an error that Dahlgren made in a late-season game against Cleveland. leveling a blow that all but ruin a man’s career;  “Dahlgren doesn’t screw up that play if he wasn’t a marijuana smoker.”

Tired of being made a fool for suggesting that the obviously proportionally limbed Dahlgren’s arms were more than long enough to play first, McCarthy decided to spread a rumor so incredible, so scandalous that few would ever repeat it. But someone did.

“Rumor in Town” might be a promise by a grandson to his grandfather to right a terrible wrong, but one would hope that it also motivate Major League Baseball or motivate the BBWAA to right a terrible injustice. To date, the case is one that MLB doesn’t feel needs to be reopened.. And that is a big a tragedy as was the rumor that cost Babe Dahlgren his career.

Travis Turning

TdABaseball prospects live in a world of comparables. I know how many tools Byron Buxton has, but is he the next Mike Trout? Sure, Archie Bradley throws a lot of strikeouts, but can he be the Diamondbacks’ Justin Verlander?

And what of Travis d’Arnaud, long ranked as the top catching prospect in baseball. Is he the next Buster Posey? Joe Mauer? Or is he more of a Russell Martin type? Or is he something more ominous altogether, a direct descendant on the lineage line of Jason Phillips, Josh Thole, and whoever else the Mets have tried to stick behind the dish in the last decade and make it work like Tim Gunn was breathing down their neck.

But then, an epiphany.

In the ninth inning of Wednesday night’s Cardinals-Mets game, a catcher made a game-saving, preposterously acrobatic stretch to tag out a runner at the plate, making a play with the kind of nimbleness most backstops wouldn’t dare to dream about. Of course, this was just another in a long line of mesmerizing plays turned by Yadier Molina, all-around catcher extraordinaire, preserving yet another heartbreaking loss for the gutless, guileless Mets.

That story, of course, is all too convenient and not quite the truth. Molina committed no such heroics (not on Wednesday night at least). The sparkling play in question was brought to you by d’Arnaud, whether the result of a fine relay throw by Ruben Tejada, d’Arnaud’s gift for defense at the plate, or some Freaky Friday scenario in which the howling Citi Field winds created some sort of skill transplant from Molina to the Mets’ young catcher.

The trademark play of d’Arnaud’s young career, refreshingly, cannot be rationalized by the supernatural, but is perhaps just another tangible stitch in the “As Good As Advertised” signpost d’Arnaud is striving to carry around with him as his major-league career takes off. And about those epiphanies and comparables: With his defensive prowess, game-calling savvy and propensity to some day (soon?) be a consistent hitter, is Travis d’Arnaud the second coming of Yadier Molina?

Not usually one to make knee-jerk, reactionary assessments, there was something particularly titillating about d’Arnaud making such a fine tag playing opposite the most accomplished defensive catcher in baseball. More symbolic than tangible, seeing the two sharing the same field for the first time allowed for a different perspective, one in which the throne of baseball’s Catching King was threatened, however infinitesimally, by the Mets’ usurper.

For d’Arnaud, much like it was for Molina, the name of the game is patience. (Well the name of the game is baseball, but look, I’m trying to make a point.) That Molina’s .246/.302/.348 slash across his first three full seasons (2005–07) didn’t jump off anyone’s page is well known. But Bengie and Jose’s youngest brother had the pedigree, the wherewithal behind the dish, and as Mets fans knew all too well, had the clutch bug, to earn himself a spot in the Cardinals’ long-term plans (not to mention a 10-year, $96 million contract).

It’s not time to issue d’Arnaud $100 million, but perhaps we should concede that defensively, he can soon hang with baseball’s top dogs. As for his bat, there’s nothing to suggest that he’s going to suddenly become a perennial .300 hitter of the Molina ilk, but it’s something to work on and have faith in, so long as his glove continues to be what it was in the ninth inning of Wednesday’s game.

Unlike Juan Lagares, it’s not as easy as creating an OBP benchmark d’Arnaud must meet to justify keeping his glove in the lineup. As one of five outfielders, Lagares is relatively expendable, and as much as Anthony Recker has endeared himself early in this season, he is not a long-term everyday option should d’Arnaud not pan out. Molina’s offensive growing pains lasted over the better part of six seasons and while the offensively starved Mets can’t necessarily wait that long for d’Arnaud to be a consistent offensive contributor, that’s the reality of rearing a defense-first catcher.

Again, the good news is d’Arnaud is relatively polished behind the dish. By all accounts, he’s a fine pitch-framer, calls a good game, and can be the reassuring presence—by accounts tangible and intangible—that the Mets’ stable of young pitchers needs to thrive. If and when he becomes a nice hitter will hopefully come sooner rather than later, but it’s not hard to already find shades of Molina in the Mets’ catcher of the future.

And if he hits a dramatic, go-ahead home run in Game 7 of a near-future NLCS, well that wouldn’t hurt his case either.

(19) Days of Curtis

curtis-grandersonThere’s a great scene from (500) Days of Summer that employs a unique bit of storytelling that can be universally appreciated, regardless of your penchant for romantic comedies and/or Zooey Deschanel. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Tom attends a party hosted by his ex-girlfriend, Deschanel’s Summer, wherein he expects to charm and woo her back into his good graces and rekindle their romance. Of course, it doesn’t play out that way — Tom mopes around as Summer cold-shoulders him with a very firm friend-zone demeanor.

The fine bit of storytelling comes in using a split screen to simultaneously show two distinct versions of the party: “Expectations,” the one that took place Tom’s head in which he taps into his inner debonair to win back Summer, and “Reality,” the disappointing party that took place.

Over at SNY, they have many a great technology they use to enhance broadcasts. However, I’m just not sure they have the manpower to play a hypothetical game side-by-side with the one actually happening, where they can use archive footage to splice together a productive Curtis Granderson — our “expectations” Curtis Granderson — contrary to the one we’ve seen in reality.

So yes Mets fandom, you’re forgiven if the Grandy Man has you feeling a little bit like Tom Hansen, playing out a desired reality in your head far from what the $60 million man has given us thus far in his 19-game-long Mets tenure. But if the wonderfully crafted scene from (500) Days of Summer taught us anything (other than giving the movie a chance because it really flips the formulaic RomCom genre on its head, but that’s for another time), it’s the value in tempering expectations, and coping healthily when your desires are not met.

Let’s talk healthy coping. Anointing Granderson “Jason Bay 2.0” is not healthy coping. Heartily booing Granderson as he plummets to another 0fer, although the mob mentality of ballpark booing is hard to resist, is not healthy coping. Rationalizing his performance through a wide lens with proper foresight while reminding yourself at every turn that Granderson has yet to play a full month with the Mets? That seems right.

That panic button is there, and despite the use the Mets seem to perpetually get out of it, always seems to look as shiny and crimson as the day it came out of the box. But dear god is it not time to press it yet. A .116 batting average is bad, and it only intensifies our fears when it reads as such at the start of the season. And this is all before considering the oh-god-what-have-we-done level of existential terror as the average comes on the heels of the biggest contract the Mets have shelled out for a free-agent position player in some time. But quitting on Granderson after 19 games? Is that what this has come to?

To help assuage collective fears and temper expectations, let’s remind ourselves of the player we signed up for. Granderson was a 40-100 hitter in Yankee Stadium at full health, but he was never going to be that guy at Citi Field. We also knew after playing just 61 games last season, he was going to need some time to get back in any sort of groove.

What’s more, Granderson failed to hit over .250 in three of his last four full seasons. If we’re talking adjustments, it’s not just trying to stop hitting home runs, it’s re-teaching yourself to become a contact hitter. Changing one’s swing considerably at 33 years old doesn’t happen over 18 games (if it even happens at all). The growing pains were always going to be intense, but in Mets fandom’s (well-deserved) beer goggles, they were ignored, never rationalized or fully considered.

So rather than panic, brace yourself for some rocky waters ahead and remind yourself that Granderson’s season is just 18 games old. He will strike out a ton, his power will leave a little to be desired from his days in the Bronx, but he is not a career .121 hitter and a smart, savvy veteran like Granderson should have to do little to earn your trust regarding his ability to bounce back. It’s the very reason the front office shelled out $60 million for him, and it’s the reason 18 games is far, far too short a time to start calling for Granderson’s head.

Tom didn’t end up with Summer at the end of (500) Days of Summer, and it’s very likely Mets fans won’t wind up with the Curtis Granderson they tricked themselves into thinking they were getting in January 2014. At the same time, the movie did not end with Tom killing himself. Instead, he quit his thankless job in pursuit of a dream career in architecture, met a new girl, and took back control over his own life instead of endless wallowing. Granderson won’t be our Summer Finn, but in time he can be something completely different, a serviceable, well-rounded veteran asset on a team trying to make a desperate push back to any sort of relevance.

‘Remake’ of Mets Radio Booth is Officially a Mess.

The general perception among many Mets fans is when team COO Jeff Wilpon tries to fix a perceived problem, he generally creates a public relations mess in the process, and then blames the media for misconstruing his intentions along the way.

Wilpon’s latest gem is a Steinbrenner-esque foray into the team’s broadcast booth, where discussions to shake up the very popular team of Howie Rose and Josh Lewin are currently being pushed by the younger Wilpon.

From Capital New York:

The sources who spoke to Capital say there’s a desire from Wilpon to incorporate an ex-player into the booth, a change from the pure-announcer backgrounds of Rose and Lewin. It’s hardly a revolutionary idea, and in fact the ex-jock formula has worked exceptionally well for the Mets on TV, with the extrordinary, anti-homer combination of Gary, Keith and Ron.

But it flies in the face of how the Mets have typically deployed their radio announcers for the half-century they’ve been around.

What’s interesting about this development is that a week ago, after rumblings of a possoble Lewin exit from the Mets radio booth, I asked around the industry and was told the following:

This is not to suggest that Howard Megdal’s story is incorrect; far from it. I trust his work as much as I do my own. It’s just that whomever is doing the pushing and pulling, the idea that changing the dynamic in the broadcast booth is a problem that needs to be fixed — and in a highly public fashion — is well, ludicrous.

Even more so when one hears things like former GM Steve Philips’ name being mentioned as a possible Lewin replacement. When it comes to Jeff Wilpon sometimes, you just can’t make it up.

QBC 2014: Meet The New Media

On Jan. 18, 2014, a very special baseball event will be happening at McFadden’s at Citi Field; the first-ever Queens Baseball Convention. It is a celebration of the New York Mets, by New York Mets fans and it’s being put together by two of the best Mets fansites in creation; MetsPolice.com and The7Line.com.

My contribution, other than attending with my dad (You know him as the Terry Collins look-alike) and my son (who still misses Jose Reyes), will be moderating the New Media panel, which will kick off the event at approximately high noon.

I say “high noon” because, well, I am the reigning Mets Gunslinger of the Year.

The reason I wanted to be a part of the QBC was simple; for years I have wondered why the Mets – a team clearly in need of energizing its fanbase — no longer held offseason FanFests ( as many teams in MLB currently do) or their once-annual Mets Caravan. With the opening of a new ballpark in 2009 — which could easily host a FanFest for baseball-hungry Mets fans — it seemed like it would only be a matter of time for one to be organized. The folks at MetsPolice.com and The7Line,com decided they didn’t want to wait anymore and have put together a great event for Mets fans of all ages.

StripDesigner_Strip 3

The New Media panel is especially exciting for me as it allowed me to bring together some of the biggest names the Mets blogosphere has to offer:

Matt Cerrone (MetsBlog.com) – Matt is the lead writer and creator of MetsBlog.com, which reaches more than 3.5 million page views per month. Prior to making MetsBlog.com a full-time job in 2006, Cerrone worked as a communication strategist for politicians, authors and entertainers. In 2007, he partnered with SportsNet NY, the TV home of the Mets, to help develop more in-depth content for MetsBlog.com, while working to create new team-specific blogs for their website, SNY.tv.

Greg Prince (FaithandFearinFlushing.com) – Greg is a professional writer, editor, and communications consultant whose work has appeared in The New York Times and Wall Street Journal Online Edition and on SNY.tv and MLB.com. He is the author of the book “Faith and Fear in Flushing” and “The Happiest Recap”.

Jason Fry (FaithandFearinFlushing.com) – The co-author of FAFIF.com, Jason is s a writer, editor and media consultant in Brooklyn, N.Y. He spent more than 12 years at The Wall Street Journal Online, serving as a writer, columnist, editor and projects guy. While at WSJ.com he edited and co-wrote The Daily Fix, a daily roundup of the best sportswriting online. He blogs about the Mets at Faith and Fear in Flushing, and has written for or consulted with Nieman Journalism Lab, the Poynter Institute, Yahoo! Sports, MSG.com, Deadspin, Baseball Prospectus, EidosMedia and the Library of Congress.

Kerel Cooper (OnTheBlack.com) – Kerel is the owner and operator of OnTheBlack.com, and whose video podcasts are among the most-watched in the Mets blogosphere. It has been featured on such industry leaders as Metsblog.com and various other Mets Sites. Kerel is also the Senior Director of Digital Ad Platform Strategies for Advance Digital.

Steve Keane (KranepoolSociety.com) – Steve is the creator of the popular Mets blog “The Eddie Kranepool Society” and numerous podcasts about the Mets. A true-blue Mets fan, Steve is never afraid to tackle any subject when it comes to the Mets, and that includes taking on the ownership, front office and the players. He is a also a popular guest on many of his fellow panel members’ podcasts as well.

Mike Silva (ESPN LI 107.1/96.9FM) – Mike currently hosts the “Weekend Watchdog” on Long Island’s ESPN Affiliate Champions Radio (107.1/96.9 FM Suffolk County) from 10AM to 1pm every Saturday. His longtime “NY Baseball Talk” podcast was one of the longest running of its kind, and is well-known to Mets fans for his other blog and podcast “Sports Media Watchdog”.

Taryn Cooper (KinersKorner.com) – “Coop” is a special part of the Mets blogosphere for many reasons, not the least of which was her first effort “My Summer Family”. You can find her now at Kiner’s Korner and hear her on the Kult of Mets Personalities podcast that has a great following.

Ed Ryan (MetsFever.com) – Ed owns and operates MetsFever.com, and stands out as one of the more even-handed Mets bloggers in the industry. He’s been blogging about the Mets since 2006, and was a regular on many of the Mets former and current message boards way before that.

The QBC is going to be a blast, and if you are a Mets fan, you should really do yourself a favor and check it out.

For tickets, a schedule of events and any info, go here - http://queensbaseballconvention.com/

 

For Mets Fans By Mets Fans: The Queens Baseball Convention

QBC2Last year, I opined that the New York Mets were doing their fans a disservice by not holding a FanFest, Winter Caravan or similar promotion to gets fans excited about the upcoming year.

There is NO reason for not trying to do this with the Mets fan. With all of the aforementioned ability to support and promote their own product, especially with tickets sales being down every year since Citi Field opened, the idea that the Mets don’t have an annual Fan Fest is incredibly short-sighted.

Well, many Mets fans agreed, and the folks from MetsPolice.com and The7Line.com have banded together to throw their own FanFest; The Queens Baseball Convention, or QBC as it is referred to in social media.

Shannon “Shark” Prior and Keith Blacknick, the pair behind blog site Metspolice.com, have teamed up with Darren Meenan of The 7 Line clothing brand to bring the first ever Queens Baseball Convention (QBC) to McFadden’s bar in Citi Field on January 18.

The event is a fan fest for Mets fans of all ages to enjoy and meet team legends, including Ron Darling, who was on the 1986 World Series team, and Ed Kranepool, who was on 1969 championship squad.

“Even if I wasn’t involved in it I was going to be there,” Meenan said. “It’s something that will bring fans together, whether you’re a young kid or someone who just likes jerseys. There’s something for everybody.”

Meenan is correct; as in addition to the appearances of Kranepool and Darling, there is a full schedule of events.

The New Media roundtable will kick off the QBC, moderated by yours truly, and features a collection of some of the biggest names in the Mets blogging and podcasting world; Matt Cerrone (MetsBlog.com), Greg Prince and Jason Fry (FaithandFearinFlushing.com), Kerel Cooper (OnTheBlack.com), Steve Keane (KranepoolSociety.com), Mike Silva (ESPN LI 107.1/96.9FM), Taryn Cooper (KinersKorner.com), and Ed Ryan (MetsFever.com).

For tickets, info and special deals, please visit QueensBaseballConvention.com

Gotham Classic: Peas in a Pod; Goldis and Bernazard

Editor’s Note -This story was written the day after Willie Randolph was fired by Mets – MH

Back in 2004, or the last time the Mets’ front office was in this much turmoil, one guy (with some help from another guy) was the divisive force that created so much havoc that super-prospect Scott Kazmir was traded for a injury-prone, arbitration-eligible (and serious non-tender candidate) right-hander, Victor Zambrano. That guy’s name was Al Goldis, and his partner in crime was Bill Livesey. Yeah, those guys. “The Super Scouts”. These two geniuses helped destroy a blossoming farm system, an exceptional scouting department, and got an undeserving GM fired. They also helped turn a fan base against Jeff Wilpon.

Sound familiar?

Later that year, after the white-hot venom of the Mets’ fan base had erupted for several months, the Mets decided that Omar Minaya would fix all of the Mets’ problems, repair the front office, and circle the wagons. At first, he did. Then he made the mistake of hiring Tony Bernazard as his assistant.

Unlike Goldis, whose agenda to usurp any influence that newly-minted GM Jim Duquette (after spending half a year as the interim GM after Steve Phillips was fired) began the day he was hired, it took Bernazard a year before he got himself promoted to VP of Player Development, despite having not a shred of scouting, coaching or front office experience. That’s quite a trick. But hey, his resume clearly indicated his fine work on the World Baseball Classic.

He never wanted to undermine his good friend Omar Minaya, but his actions and behavior have had the same result. Even better, like Goldis, he has – for the most part — put enough of his cronies in place so that any criticism – or corroboration – is virtually non-existent.

Let’s rewind back to July 30, 2004.

The day before the Kazmir trade was made. Several days earlier, noted columnist Bob Klapisch was on MSGSportsDesk discussing a trade rumor that had the Mets considering trading Scott Kazmir in exchange for The D-Ray’s Victor Zambrano. The emerging Internet community reacted with outrage, stating the Mets would never make that deal, etc. They also added that Klapisch “made it up”.

At the time, I was working at the Associated Press, knew of Klapsich’s reputation (which was excellent) and started checking with all of my contacts with the Mets’ Minor Leagues to see why they were considering dealing their top pitching prospect, who was rated by Baseball America as the a Top 5 blue chipper in all of baseball.

The answer was Al Goldis. I got this info at 11:30 pm EDT on July 29th, spent the next few hours writing the story and publishing it on the then-Mets Inside Pitch website (now insidepitchmagazine.com). Here is the relevant body of that article:

Given this is Jim Duquette’s first full year as general manager, it seems ill-advised that right before the all-important trading deadline, his role is being being circumvented by others in the front office.

Yet, it appears that’s exactly what is happening…(as) sources indicate that Mets’ owner Fred Wilpon is starting to tune out Duquette at the worst possible time of the year.

“Superscout” Al Goldis is the man that Wilpon is apparently listening to, …(and) has become increasingly active in the team’s day-to-day activities, including constant criticism of the team’s scouting and minor league development people, as well as pushing for the trade of some of the team’s top prospects for a all-out run at the NL East. (Matt) Peterson and left-hander Scott Kazmir are the team’s top pitching prospects, yet each are being bandied about in trade talks, only months after being considered untouchable. Duquette, widely known throughout baseball circles as a patient man _ especially when it comes to the club’s farmhands _ is rumored to be against trading either player.

Yet, somehow, Peterson may very well be on his way to Pittsburgh, while Kazmir is supposedly the (main component) that would net the Mets’ righty Victor Zambrano from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

For a team that spent much of the offseason selling its fan base on the future and it’s so-called “Plan”, this chain of events is alarming to those who believe the Amazin’s only hope of consistent playoff contention is the minor league system. Duquette, the lone voice opposing ex-GM Steve Phillips’ the ill-fated deals for Roberto Alomar and Mo Vaughn, has suddenly appeared to have changed course.

“No one is untouchable” said Duquette, who appeared as a guest on ESPN 1050AM on Thursday.

The “win now” mantra that is emanating from Shea Stadium the past few weeks makes the non-signing of Vladimir Guerrero, on his way to a possible MVP season for the Angels, now seem ludicrous. If Fred Wilpon thought highly enough to hire Duquette in the first place, why allow Goldis, who is supposed to a special assistant to the general manager, to have such sway in the team’s makeup? Along with Director of Scouting Gary LaRocque and Minor League Coordinator Guy Conti, Duquette have presided over a complete overhaul of the team’s minor league system, now considered one of the best in baseball.

The lack of trust being shown Duquette is (alarming), whose opinions are being shunted aside in favor of a “subordinate”, who just happens to have the owner’s ear.

The next day, those trades were made, and as the fans’ reaction started to explode, people started looking for folks to blame. Not a single writer, save Newsday’s Dave Lennon (who got Peterson to say, “Go ask Al Goldis”, in answer to a direct question about his role), ever mentioned Goldis’ name in any of their stories.

Why?

“(Goldis) is never around.” said one writer a few days after the deal. He was from a major NY tabloid, who is now out of the business, but I couldn’t reach him to get permission to use his name in this story. Frankly, it’s not important. What is important as his next sentence. “It’s easier to blame (Mets pitching coach Rick) Peterson. He likes Zambrano, was impatient with Kazmir because he didn’t buy into Rick’s program, and he’s weird.”

What? I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I told him that his paper’s actions were unethical and that I would print what he said. He didn’t seem to care, I printed it, and even have repeated it on dozens of radio shows since. No one seems to be too disturbed by it.

The truth is, Peterson’s input played a role, and as he was the “CEO of Pitching”, but his “I’ll fix him in 10 minutes” comment, perpetuated as the REASON, is regurgitated nonsense. Much like the oft-repeated “Play it again, Sam” line from “Casablanca”, it doesn’t exist and is a myth. Also, John Franco and Al Leiter, while liked by ownership, were not asked for their input at the time of the deal. At that time, there was a growing resentment between certain members of the media, the two aforementioned veterans, and the manager.

Again, sound familiar?

Contrary to a recent TV report, and confirmed by more than one former member of the 2002 front office, Mets COO Jeff Wilpon, though respectful of Goldis, who was once the young Wilpon’s batting coach, did not “engineer” the Kazmir trade. As I reported then, and am reporting now, Jeff Wilpon was very reluctant to deal the young left-hander, who had become a fan favorite before ever throwing a pitch for the big league Mets, because of his tenure with the younger Wilpon’s claim to fame; the Brooklyn Cyclones. The opinion was shared by Duquette, long an admirer of the building of an organization from within.

The only problem was that his “assistants” had been spending the season plotting their purge of the previous – and current – regime’s prospects. Adding to that dynamic was the fact that Fred Wilpon had never really trusted Duquette’s evaluation skills, and had tried to hire Minaya away from the Expos in early 2004 before grudgingly giving the job to him. Instead, he hired the superscouts.

”We knew when Jim took over that that we had to hire two superscouts right away,” Fred Wilpon told the New York Times in 2005. “’Now Jim has two guys who are very, very important to him.”

Ah, the irony.

But later that summer, while the shining light of Art Howe had finally begun to dim, the Mets were again playing under expectations. Faced with slim-to-none hopes of making the postseason, the “Kitchen Cabinet” pulled the trigger. It was the room, dominated by Goldis and Livesey (whose role was excellently portrayed by Lawrence Rocca in a story published in the Newark Star-Ledger in August of 2004), that Fred Wilpon listened to and trusted the wrong people, and a franchise was ruptured.

The “all-powerful” Jeff Wilpon, who had urged his father to give Duquette a shot at the full-time job, then had to tell his friend that he was out and Omar, Fred’s personal choice, was in. The backlash from the deal was so unexpected, so bitter and so intense that “someone needed to pay the price.” Only recently has Duquette ever spoken about who pulled the trigger and even then, by only saying “There were too many cooks in the kitchen.”

Over the next two years, Wilpon’s money, Minaya’s personality and a very professional Willie Randolph were able to turn things around quickly, but as the organization started to heal itself, another man who would be King started to exert the influence bestowed on him by the GM. The difference is, this assistant GM had his sights set on the manager, pitching coach and others in the organization. He operated in the shadows like Goldis – and started driving good people out of the organization.

I wrote about this in the summer of 2005, as did Madden and Newsday’s Ken Davidoff.

Peterson kept his job (Bernazard realized that the Wilpons hired Peterson, not Duquette, a little too late), but he was able to drive Minor League Coordinator Tony Tijerina out the door. Most fans don’t know “T.J.”, but the former minor league catcher served as a player, coach, manager and assistant to Guy Conti (who he replaced as Coordinator) for the Mets since 1991, when he was drafted in the 13th round of the amateur draft. Deemed “too negative” by Bernazard to be a cog in his machine, he was replaced by Luis Aguayo.

Yeah, the new third base coach.

The new first base coach is former Minor League Manager of the Year Ken Oberkfell. The superb skipper, who helped develop David Wright, Jose Reyes and Kazmir, was really supposed to be the Mets manager in 2005. But once his biggest supporter (Duquette) was replaced as GM, he wasn’t even given an interview. Retreads Terry Collins and Jim Riggleman were, though.

The only good thing to come out of this whole debacle is that Oberkfell and new pitching coach Dan Warthen are getting their chance to work for the Mets. Finally. Good things do happen to good people.

Now to Randolph. Undermined by Bernazard, the lack of any real confidants on his coaching staff (interim manager Jerry Manuel was an Omar hire), and all of the mistakes made by the front office doesn’t change the fact that he wasn’t a very good manager. He deserved to be fired last year, got a chance to redeem himself, but didn’t deserve to get fired the way he did. Blame Omar Minaya for the clumsy way he handled this entire situation. Blame Omar Minaya for his assistant’s constant open-door policy with the Latino players, which hurt the skipper’s credibility. But stop blaming Fred and Jeff Wilpon for stuff they didn’t do.

Fred and Jeff Wilpon did not order Omar Minaya to fire Willie Randolph in the middle of the night. That was Minaya’s doing, and was on Minaya’s timetable. Sure, much like former Met Bobby Valentine’s ill-advised “Baseball at-bat on Marijuana” pantomime at the Tony Tarasco press conference in 2002, Randolph’s comments on race and SNY were an impetus for then Phillips and now Minaya to get the final approval from Fred Wilpon to fire the manager. Fred Wilpon is building his rotunda to honor Jackie Robinson, and is the guy who really hired Willie Randolph in the first place. He was hurt, and shocked that his manager could say the things he did. The moment they were made, the last real support Randolph had died. Jeff Wilpon? He was ready to fire Randolph after last year’s collapse, sure. So were a lot of people. Had he really “run” the organization, he would have. He deferred to Minaya. So much for that nonsense.

My favorite line lately is “Jeff Wilpon leaked info to the media”, as being blamed by many for the terrible timing of the firing. One writer even went on to say that Jeff “picked his favorite media guys” and told them that the firings were imminent. Really? Who would those guys be? The answer is zero. The media has been relentlessly smearing Jeff for years. Some have called him “Paris Wilpon” and others spew derivatives of “rich, spoiled, silver spoon brat” around the tabloids and blogs for good measure.

He’s no George Clooney. But he’s honest and while he often chooses not to comment, he never gets the benefit of the doubt. He had a few weeks there in the winter, as he was lauded for his role in the Johan Santana negotiations, but otherwise, is never fairly treated.

“Why should he have any say in the team, he’s just the owner’s son.” barks Chris Russo on WFAN. Sure Chris, I’m sure if you, or Peter Gammons or Vinnie From Flushing’s dad owned the Mets, you’d get a job in some other industry. Jealousy, thy name is everyone not named Jeff Wilpon.

Admittedly, both Fred and Jeff can be their own worst enemy, as they lack the communication ooze of PR hacks. But they are straightforward, honest, family men that refuse to lower themselves to debating with people that use personal attacks, embittered ex-employees and innuendo to publish the “facts”. Their biggest problem is that they put their trust, consistently, in the wrong people. From Al Harazin to Steve Phillips, the list is long.

Fred Wilpon loves baseball. He loves it so much that during this spring training he was talking to anyone who would listen about young pitcher Jon Niese. Jeff Wilpon loves baseball so much he goes on scouting trips to watch all levels of the farm system. They have been wrong often, and are stubborn, and defensive. But they love this club, want to win a World Series, and dammit, in a industry that is littered with franchises that could care less about being competitive, they desire excellence.

They’re not perfect, and they sure as hell have no particular affection for me (which is an understatement), as I have been extremely critical of ownership through the years. But they are NOT at fault for this latest debacle. This is fully and completely the responsibility of Omar Minaya.

Because he’s extremely likable, friendly and a honest GM (who understands his fan base more than most GMs), so much like painting Rick Peterson as a vindictive mad scientist, the media’ decision to portray Minaya as the reluctant triggerman is equally easy.

The evil Queen did not send the huntsman into the woods to kill Snow White. Great drama, great soap opera, but ultimately, bull.

The truth? Minaya’s firing of Randolph had a heckuva lot to do with his own job security. If he’s going to go down, he’s going to go down with his own guy, Manuel. You see, back in 2005, Rudy Jaramillo was Omar’s first choice to manage his club. Bobby Valentine was also a consideration, but not an option. Randolph – who had been linked to the Reds with Minaya as a possible manager-GM team in 2000 — was a compromise candidate, agreed on by Omar with full support – and strong suggestion — of ownership.

Then-newly hired Bernazard was never really on board with the hire, but waited until he had consolidated his power to start sowing his seeds of discontent. For nearly two seasons, Bernazard has been undermining the skipper in the clubhouse and in the front office. Thanks to The Daily News’ Bill Madden and WFAN’s Mike Francesa and Chris Russo (the latter two are sadly, vastly uninformed in other aspects of the story), his role took him out of the shadows a bit.

“(Thankfully) he’s Minaya’s problem,” said one baseball official, who spoke with Gotham Baseball Magazine on condition of anonymity. “He and Goldis are peas in a pod.”

So, the free-for-all now being directed at the Mets’ ownership, while par for the course, is ridiculous and unwarranted.

Randolph deserved to be fired at the end of last season, and 2008 should have been the beginning of a new regime. Minaya decided to keep the manager, and couldn’t bring himself to make a decision that was months in the making. He repeatedly told people in Tuesday’s press conference that it was “his decision”, yet the mudslinging of Fred and Jeff Wilpon is the main theme of what you read and hear today.

Unfair, and far from the truth.

All indications are that, even if the Mets miss the postseason again, Minaya will be safe. But will Bernazard? For the Mets’ sake – and Minaya’s – a real VP of Player Development is needed. It’s hard to imagine Minaya firing his friend, but maybe like in “What About Bob”, the Mets will find someone to take him off their hands.

Bernazard was in line for the Pirates GM job (which went to Neil Huntington), and lots of Mets’ insiders were secretly hoping he would get the gig. He didn’t. He is also being rumored to be in line for the vacant Seattle GM job.

Don’t be surprised if you see lots of crossed fingers at the next organizational meetings.