From the desks of: HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET & BLAME CARLOS MAY
The calm before the storm..
NEW YORK METS: The more I ponder Yoenis Cespedes re-signing with the Mets, the more memories of Reggie Jackson race through my mind.
I think back to Reggie's impact on the New York Yankees, and can't help but think Cespedes can similarly propel the Mets. The timing is perfect. Just as it was for Reggie, Billy Martin, and the 1977 New York Yankees, the 2016 New York Mets find themselves in a like position.
If you're too young to have experienced Reginald Martinez Jackson, allow me to recreate the condition.
Billy Martin's personal demons aside, I still regard him as the greatest manager of my lifetime. He was old school, a strict blue collar fundamentalist, practiced in the art of manufacturing runs, and keeping his entire roster sharp. He was also a supremely aggressive risk taker and brilliant strategist. In hindsight, one might argue Billy Martin's managerial style was what transformed the Yankees into a formidable American League contender in the first place.
Billy detested Reggie Jackson (the player), and wanted nothing to do with his joining the Yankees. He insisted Reggie wouldn't fit into his style of play, that he lacked the ability to hit and run, that he refused to hit the other way, he struck out too often, was a poor fielder, and on, and on...
Martin was more enamored with players like Thurman Munson and Chris Chambliss, and continually stressed (to the media as a way of jabbing George Steinbrenner) that "his" Yankees won a pennant in 1976, and went to the World Series without Reggie.
Despite Billy's protestations, the Boss signed Reggie anyway. In turn, Reggie wasted little time in setting the record straight by reminding the media,
"I'm not coming to New York to become a star. I'm bringing my star with me."
Reggie Jackson was a supremely confident well spoken man. Although generally affable, his candor however, cut like a razor blade. Make no mistake, Reggie the man and player walked to his own beat. That said, he put his money where his mouth was, lest we forget he played for three World Series champions and won an MVP award with Oakland's dynastic Swingin' A's.
His all or nothing approach at the plate and sometimes questionable effort in the field, however, were pure torture for Billy Martin to bear. Billy was an alpha-manager with a temper, and tried bullying Reggie into adopting a different approach to the game (i.e., Billy's Way or the highway). Reggie conformed best he could ... until the two famously argued, and nearly came to blows in the dugout at Fenway Park.
Now for the other side.
After Billy's Yankees got swept (pummeled is more like it...) by the Big Red Machine in the 1976 World Series, Reggie Jackson stepped in and very abruptly changed the Yankees identity and fortunes for the next five years (sometimes with Billy, and sometimes without him as manager).
Although Billy Martin was right in a sense, in that Jackson ultimately set and still holds baseball's all-time strikeout record, Reggie didn't earn the moniker Mr. October for nothing.
Rather, a fundamentally flawed player by Billy Martin's standards, carried the Yankees to three more A.L. titles, and back-to-back championships, sometimes in prolific fashion, over the Red Sox*, Brewers, Royals, and the National League's Dodgers.
*The 1978 A.L. East playoff against Boston was considered regular season game #163.
These were the years when Jackson's ability to dominate playoff games/series with one mighty swing of the bat truly became legendary. In fact, the man never hit an inconsequential post-season home run throughout his time with the Yankees.
Just to put things in perspective, Reggie went 38 for 119 in 34 post-season games with the Yanks for a .319 average, with 12 home runs and 29 RBI. That's roughly 1/5 of a regular season, which roughly translates into 59 home runs and 143 RBI over 162 games. Seven of his home runs came in World Series play.
Enter Yoenis Cespedes, whom, to date, has no such accomplishments to speak of. Prior to his arrival with the Mets, he played 10 post-season games spanning two ALDS appearances with Detroit, where Yoenis combined to hit, 350, with one home run, and 6 RBI.
Now let's reset the condition prior to the July 2015 non-waiver trade deadline with a few criticisms one might have likely heard from the enigmatic outfielder's detractors:
There are reasons why Yoenis Cespedes played with three different teams in four years. His reputation precedes him. In short, he's a habitual golf playing, cigarette smokin', non-hustling, diva. Moreover, Yoenis Cespedes' inflated ego is ill suited for playing in New York City. Fans, and particularly the media, will chew up a guy like that and spit him out. And besides, his high rate of strikeouts and low OBP make him a poor fit in Sandy Alderson's system.
Despite his exploits during the Mets' chase of an N.L. East crown, some of the above critiques lingered into this off-season.
I was always of the opinion sluggers like him are unique, and few and far between. I certainly wanted him back, and collectively, we fans all seemingly wanted Cespedes back.
Both Reggie and Cespedes possess(ed) the unique ability to instantly impact a game, sometimes in defiance of an organization's prevailing offensive philosophy (an odd strain of Money Ball in the Mets case, and in Billy's case, Billy himself).
Both sluggers also openly embraced the challenge of playing in New York City. How Cespedes' relationship with the media proceeds forward now that the stakes have been dramatically raised remains to be seen. I am very certain, though, Cespedes will never endure the media scrutiny Reggie Jackson received here, so, perhaps Yoenis will not need to become as adept at manipulating the media as Reggie was (and often required to be). Last year, Cespedes and the media seemingly found common ground. We all got by on a bland diet of usual talk through his interpreter. Of course, it's best if his bat ultimately does the talking.
Yes, Yoenis Cespedes played for the 2015 N.L. champs, and in the World Series against the Royals, unlike Reggie whom played the 1976 season for the Baltimore Orioles, while the Yankees captured the A.L. pennant then lost to the Reds.
Cespedes, however, became an inconsequential player on Sept. 30, or, the night he was struck on the hand by a pitch against the Phillies. In an instant, his production quite literally went from prodigious to ponderous. He then made matters worse by hurting his shoulder doing push-ups in Chicago during the NLCS, which required a cortisone shot. Therefore, the Mets essentially played without him, or at the very least, with a very compromised version.
That's all academic now. The time to seize the moment has arrived. Just as it was for the 1977 Yankees, it's World Series or bust for the 2016 New York Mets.
Our guest(s) were Jaron and his dad Robert. Jaron is a 14-year old wonder kid from Los Angeles whom has a 30k following on Istagram. On Twitter you can find him
@nym_news. He's become a friend of the show, and is very knowledgeable, if I may say. His father is a former NY'er whom raised his son to be a Mets fan on the Left Coast. They are extremely engaging individually, and make a great team. Obviously, we keep Jaron's dad on just to keep things copacetic, but he's a tremendous contributor in his own right - a man after my own heart.
We took a lot of calls, and even got pranked two or three times.
What can I say - we don't have a dump button or a call screener.
So, it got a little gonzo there for a few minutes.
Robert, however, took a few of those callers to task.
We even "outed" one of them.
It was great!
Otherwise, I think the show went extremely well, if not one of our best.
We left no stone unturned.
We even ended the show with positive things to say about JeffWilpon!
In terms of lengthy bodies of work (i.e., Tom Landry, Chuck Knoll, Don Shula, etc.), the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots are the most expertly drilled, well prepared team since Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers, if not all-time.
What their opponents, the Denver Broncos, have going for them is Any Given Sunday.
Don't get me wrong ... John Elway has been an exceptionally good executive. But he's up against the guy who's first ever poop in life was shaped like a tiny brown football.
You're reading me right - I don't think this game will even be close.
Denver's defense is legit. They can account for many things, but, not everything. Lucky for them, Gronk, Amendola, and Edelman are all questionable.
Yeah right! Don't make me laugh...
In fact, I have a hunch Belichick will attempt to open with a classic, punishing running game, and dare the Broncos to stop it playing straight up. If and when he gets a reaction out of Gary Kubiak, the game of adjustments will belong to Belichick = check mate. If I'm wrong, I still think New England's versatility on offense willcreate weaknesses in Denver's defense.
Remember Rex Ryans' years as Jets coach? Well .., those were actually New England's rebuilding years. That's when Bill Belichick was in the midst of trading assets, and drafting defensive players. He knew then, one more rebuilding was in order to maximize the latter years of Tom Brady's seemingly indefatigable career. Then last year happened ... right on schedule.
Peyton Manning is now a rich man's version of Chad Pennington. The Patriots will effectively dare the future HOF'er to throw deep (because he can't anymore). Otherwise, Belichick will be delighted if the Broncos tried running the ball, and balanced that with a short passing game across the middle. New England's young, and playoff tested defense will be up to the challenge. Bend/Don't Break will have a fine day.
Patriots -3 (BRONCOS)
National Football Conference
Before factoring in their respective quarterbacks, we are essentially talking about two very evenly matched teams. The statistical advantages Carolina amassed over Arizona during the regular season are marginal (inconsequential..) at best.
Carolina was the lone NFL team to post (exactly) 500 points during the regular season. Arizona was a close second with 489 points. Defensively, Carolina allowed 308 points, while Arizona nearly matched them with 311 points allowed.
Carolina is additionally undefeated at home this season, while Arizona lost just once on the road.
... all too close for comfort, which ever team you're rooting for.
Now bring Carson Palmer and Cam Newton into the equation and the conversation changes.
Palmer's playoff inexperience was on display last week, evidenced by two near catastrophic INTs against Green Bay. Then again, so was his potential to be a difference maker, demonstrated by 349 passing yards and three TDs. That said, he'll be playing in the biggest game of his career. Palmer and Arizona have been a good fit together, but a week after Larry Fitzgerald miraculously put Arizona in this position, Carson Palmer must now seize the moment. The Cardinals need a smart, effective performance befitting a 36-year old, former #1 overall draft pick, and whom posted a career year with 4,671 passing yards, and led the NFL in QB rating.
Easier said than done. Seattle did a piss poor job of defending their QB against Carolina's pass rush. Arizona needs to keep Palmer upright, and he in turn must spread the ball around to keep Carolina honest, and set up Larry Fitzgerald for a knockout. That's what they do best.
Cam Newton, if you recall, was involved in a car accident roughly 13 months ago in which he broke two bones in his lower back. Amazingly, we're now talking about the probable league MVP of the 2015 regular season.
The man is seemingly too much to handle. He threw 35 touchdowns, and rushed for 10 more. As they say, you can't stop him, you can only hope to contain him.
So here's the thing... It's up to Arizona's defense to win this game. If they keep Cam Newton in the pocket, and relegate him to being a traditional QB (...like Carson Palmer), I like their chances to win. Why? I like Arizona's defensive discipline in so far as maintaining their lanes, and not over-pursuing. They're strong in the box, and equally capable in the secondary = balanced.
Carolina? They're favored to win, and rightfully so. Their second half performance last week against the Seahawks simply proved they are human ... like the rest of us. But, it also brought their adjustments into question. Seattle's loss no doubt provided Arizona coaches with invaluable information.
I'll reiterate ... I believe these teams are dead even. Each team also has their own motivations. Carolina is in the midst of a great (great) season. Arizona, on the other hand, has been banging on the door for a few years now. This is essentially the same unit that paid their dues against the Niners (before the fall) and former SB champion Seahawks.
Cam Newton ultimately remains the X-factor. If he is allowed to run wild, it will be like 11 Cardinals laying against 12 Panthers. So, be warned, this is a sentimental pick. I've been high on the Cardinals since the pre-season, and I'm not about to go cold turkey now.
Prepare for a fight, or two, and bring your friends.
The Sweet Science is coming to Flatbush Avenue. No ... Gleason's Gym isn't relocating.
This evening, championship boxing - the heavyweight division - returns to Kings County.
Finally, 115 years later to be exact, Barclays Center will host the Borough's first heavyweight title fight since May 11, 1900, when a crowd of roughly 8,000 assembled in Coney Island to witness 25-year old James Jefferies successfully defend his title with a 23rd round knockout of 33-year old challenger James Corbett, in a scheduled 25 round fight.
On June 9, 1899, Jefferies became champion by defeating Bob Fitzsimmons in 11 rounds, then defended his title later that year against Tom Sharkey. Both fights also took place at Coney Island.
Simply said, the present condition of boxing as a whole, and the heavyweight division in particular, have become so astonishingly inferior when compared with the divisions of pugilists I grew impassioned with throughout the 1970s and 80s (and even 1990s), much less the countless legends which precede my existence...
Like any faulty enterprise, there are numerous reasons for the deteriorated state of boxing. This blog, however, is no place to conduct a symposium on the matter.
That being said, this latest bunch of heavyweights come peddling more decorative belts than a curbside vendor at the Fulton Mall.
In Saturday night's main event, WBC champ Deontay Wilder will defend his title against Artur Szpilka. This will be his third title defense since dethroning Bermain Stiverne - whom incidentally, became the only opponent to ever make Wilder go the (12 rounds) distance.
At 30-years of age, Deontay "The Bronze Bomber" Wilder hails from Alabama, and is trained by none other than Brooklyn's own, Mark Breland. He's tall and lean (like his trainer was), At 6'7" and 228 pounds, his ability to absorb punishment has yet been tested. He nevertheless boasts an unblemished 35-0 record with 34 knockouts. He's maneuverable, and throws a lethal right hand.
The challenger, Artur Szpilka, a southpaw, hails from Poland. At 26-years of age, he is traditionally stockier at 6'3" and 233 pounds. Artur boasts a 20-1 record with 15 knockouts. His lone defeat came in 2014 at Madison Square Garden via TKO in the 10th round against Bryant "Bye Bye" Jennings. He since went on to win four straight fights.
The second championship bout on this evening's card owes its genesis to Tyson Fury, whom won a decision over Wladimir Klitschko, relieving the former champ of his WBA, WBO, and IBF belts. When Fury agreed to a rematch with Klitschko, the IBF stripped Fury of the belt, thus setting up this evening's bout between the IBF's #1 contender Vyacheslav Glazkov and Charles Martin for the vacant title.
Charles Martin is 6'5", and 249 pounds, and boasts a 22-0-1 record with 20 knockouts. Glazkov is 6'3" and 218 pounds, with a 20-0-1 record and 13 knockouts.
Tyson Fury is still WBA, and WBO champion.
BROOKLYN BORN HEAVYWEIGHTS
Floyd Patterson * Mike Tyson
Riddick Bowe * Shannon Briggs * Eddie Mustafa Muhammad
Prior to Mike Tyson ever becoming the youngest fighter to win the heavyweight title in 1986, there was Floyd Patterson, whom originally became the youngest boxer to gain the title back in 1956.
The Chiefs winning streak means little to me. I like the Chiefs defense, particularly their ability to pressure Tom Brady (the statue). Teams haven't been running well against K.C. either, and I do not see the Pats changing that much. I generally do not like teams coming off of bye-weeks, but in New England's case, they sorely needed the week off. Tom Brady, Gronk, and Julian Edelman, will all be gimpy, but available, and at least won't be turning over the ball like the woeful Texans did. I think Coach Belichick will devise a scheme to make Chiefs QB Alex Smith work harder than Andy Reid would like. Offensively, the Patriots will do just enough to get by. This point spread is a sketchy proposition, though.
WIN; 27-20 Patriots
CARDINALS -7 (Packers)
Defeating the D.C. Hogs was fool's gold. The real Packers are the team that struggled down the stretch, and so there will be no discount double check this week. The Cardinals' secondary is strong, and as a defense know how to keep Rodgers contained in the pocket. That's why they were able to sack him 8 times last time they met 3 weeks ago. Carson Palmer has been waiting a long time for this opportunity. It's time for him to validate his status as a winner - not just as a member of the Cards, but throughout his career. Spending time with the Bengals is a red flag on any one's resume. He's out to shake off 2 playoff losses while with Cincinnati - and will.
Loss; 26-20 Cardinals
PANTHERS -2 (Seahawks)
The Panthers won the regular season showdown between the two. But, that was nearly 3 months ago. The Seahawks have straightened themselves out since then, and more resemble the Seattle team that defeated Carolina in the playoffs 2 seasons ago. Still, the Panthers were the only team in the NFL to amass 500+ points this season, and are undefeated at home with an 8-0 record. Actually, both teams face the same dilemma, which is a quarterback whom can beat you inside the pocket, or fleeing from it. Ultimately, however, one of those two will need to hang in and deliver the game's knockout blow. The home team is only laying 2 points, so there's little confidence to speak of. At least a field goal would come in handy.
WIN; 31-24 Panthers
BRONCOS -7 (Pittsburgh)
With all Pittsburgh's potential offensive injuries (particularly to Big Ben) piling up, I expect Denver's defense to amp-up the intensity. If they render Big Ben ineffective, the Steelers are toast. This spread is begging me to take the Steelers, after all, Peyton Manning's health is in question, and history says he does not do well in cold weather playoff games. So, am I confident about this?
With the Washington Capitals dominating the Metropolitan Division by a 16 point margin over both the Rangers and Islanders, the battle for second place is on.
The Rangers are in Kings County for only their second ever appearance at Barclays Center. Their first trip over the bridge came on December 2nd, which ended in a 2-1 shootout loss. Prior to the Islanders departure from Uniondale, the Rangers last played in Brooklyn way back in 1942 against the Americans.
After Thursday's game, Madison Square Garden will then host the final two meetings of the season series. If the mid-season standings are an early indication, then the series finale between the Rangers and Islanders on April 7 is shaping up to be one of their more epic clashes in decades.
The Rangers and Islanders enter Thursday's action tied with 51 points apiece. Therefore, Thursday night's game will be an interesting case study in styles. The Islanders grind teams down with four lines, whom all know how to throw their weight around. The Rangers, on the other hand, try to play faster than the physicality.
I think this is a non issue for Isle fans. I think it's an issue for some Rangers fans, and it's certainly an issue for this one, your truly.
Midway through the season, the Rangers defense is a mid-level unit. They're presently ranked 14th in goals against, which is well below their usual standard. Adding insult to Rangers injury, the Islanders are ranked 12th in goals against, and that's just not something Rangers fans (nor Islanders fans for that matter) are accustomed to.
Don't Look Now, But...
Have the Islanders finally gotten over their long suffering Achilles heal? Don't look now, but they are ranked #2 on the penalty kill. That's been Coach Capuano's pet peeve for years, and one of the few, yet most self-destructive Islanders shortcomings these last few seasons.
Henrik the Busy:
Jaroslav Halak will be making his 23rd start Thursday. Back-up Thomas Greiss has made 20 starts of his own. Meanwhile, Henrik Lundqvist has made all but 8 starts for the Rangers. In 34 starts, he owns 19 wins, a .920 SV% and a 2.49 GAA. Combined, Halak and Greiss have posted 23 victories, with a .923 SV% and a 2.27 GAA.
BROOKLYN NETS: Borough's notorious apathy settling in; seats are emptying, and Mikhail Prokhorov knows it.
Carmelo Anthony rolled his ankle during Tuesday night's Knicks victory over the Celtics. His availability for Wednesday's contest in Brooklyn will likely be a game time decision.
Shame too ... fans in Brooklyn needed something for their money.
Count it! ...and the foul!
Truth of the matter is that necessity is the mother of all invention.
Sweeping changes are indeed underway at Barclays Center. Brooklyn's dismal 10-28 record this season alone justified owner Mikhail Prokhorov's decision to rethink his strategy for success.
At the Nets recent presser, Mr. Prokhorov reasoned that by initiating changes now, he avoids having to rush through the replacement process ahead, and that this time, a well conceived plan focused on mid-level to long term success is now in order.
Behind the scenes, Mr. Prokhorov revealed the NBA stated their desire to have the Nets and Barclays Center consolidated under single ownership (versus the off-setting holdings shared between Mikhail Prokhorov and Bruce Ratner).
That was the out Bruce Ratner wanted all along. Hence, Mr. Prokhorov recently became full (100%) owner of both the Nets and Barclays Center. Prokhorov said the deal was good for him, while Forest City is gladly out of the loop.
As sole owner, Mikhail Prokhorov reminded all he is indeed a businessman, and that if interested parties feel inclined to make a bid (for the team and arena) he will indeed listen, but then quickly assured the room he has no inclinations to sell. In simple but very effective terms, he expressed an even greater determination to get this process done right, and resolved to delivering Brooklyn a championship caliber club.
To that end, he said, "I'm all in."
Now that all his rubles are in one basket, he better be.
As expected the Nets ranked dead last in attendance during their last season in New Jersey.
During their inaugural season in Brooklyn, the Nets ranked 16th in the league. In year two, they slipped to 17th in the league. Last season, Nets attendance dropped to 20th in the league. In each of their first three seasons in Brooklyn, however, Nets average attendance remained above 17,000 per game.
This season, the Brooklyn Nets are one of four NBA teams averaging less that 15,000 fans per game, ranking 28th in a circuit of 30 teams.
That's bad business, and no one knows it better than Mikhail Prokhorov.
His team enters Wednesday's game losers of 5 straight. On Monday, they dropped their 10th straight game at Barclays Center, this time against the San Antonio Spurs.
NEW YORK KNICKS: Melo's team oriented play endures an untimely twist of fate.
The Knicks defeated the Boston Celtics 120-114 at the Garden Tuesday night. They are winners of 5 of their last 6 games, and enter Barclays Center this evening at par with a 20-20 record.
Kristaps Porzingis led all Knicks Tuesday with 26 points, as Carmelo Anthony set out the 2nd half. Arron Afflalo picked up the slack scoring 20 of his 24 points in the 2nd half.
During much of the early going, Kristaps Porzingis' polished play, and Arron Afflalo's impact were frequently leading stories. That's why Carmelo Anthony couldn't have rolled his ankle at a worse time. His fine team play this season was finally getting the recognition it rightly deserves.
If you're talking about the 2015-2016 season, you're definitely talking about a different, more cooperative Melo, even wiser Melo.
The results on the floor speak for themselves.
A Victory Grows in Brooklyn:
Despite 31 points from Derrick Williams, the visiting Knicks failed to break through the .500 mark. The Knicks were playing on the back end of consecutive nights, and without Carmelo Anthony whom twisted his ankle Tuesday against the Celtics.
Kristaps Porzingas struggled, shooting only 5 of 17 from the field, but still posted a double-double with 12 points and 10 boards.
By the 4th quarter, the Knicks were clearly spent, as the Nets coasted to 36 points in the final quarter, en route to a 110-104 victory.
Brook Lopez led the Nets with 20 points, while Thaddeus Young went double-double, with 19 points and 11 rebounds.
The victory snapped the Nets 5-game losing streak, and more importantly, their 10-game losing streak at Barclays Center.
as Mikhail Prohorov trashes his initial blueprint for greatness.
BROOKLYN NETS: Billy King's all-out effort to build an immediate winner instead set the Flatbush Hoops back for years to come.
There's an old saying - Haste Makes Waste.
What did you expect?
When Bruce Ratner purchased the team, then announced his plan to move them to Brooklyn, his refusal to resign Kenyon Martin essentially became the first indication he was less interested in owning a basketball team, than he was using them as a vehicle to get his proposed downtown Atlantic Yards development realized.
The team inevitably initiated a great rebuild anyway, by first deconstructing the roster during their final years in New Jersey.
After all Ratner's legal wrangling, majority ownership of the team ponderously, if not conveniently, transferred to Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov even before the concrete foundation at Barclays Center had been poured.
The new owner's first order of business was to revamp the front office, beginning with the unceremonious purging of Rod Thorn. The Nets in turn hired Billy King to be their next general manager. In his defense, King was charged with not just turning the Nets into a competitive team in time for their Brooklyn debut, but to fulfill the owner's mandate of winning a championship within five years of assuming control.
Suffice to say, that hastily executed mission ended in disaster. To date, Billy King has done more to help rebuild the Boston Celtics than he has the Nets, whom are in their fourth straight season of regression. Presently sporting a 10-27 record, only Philadelphia and the Los Angeles Lakers have fared worse this season.
For two seasons now, I've wondered aloud why Billy King was still GM of the Nets...
I no longer have to wonder. Owner Mikhail Prokhorov finally had enough of this futility as well, and this weekend cleaned house.
Billy King, and Coach Hollins have been relieved of their duties.
This means the Nets will finish out the regular season with their fifth head coach since moving to Brooklyn (in 2012-2013), and will most likely begin next season with their sixth coach in 5 years.
On the bright side, the Nets will gain a measure of salary cap relief next season. Otherwise, the Nets draft has been compromised till 2020, when they finally regain control of their #1 pick again. Till then, Boston will reap the benefits of Brooklyn's futility.
Assistant coach Tony Brown will finish out the season as interim coach, while Billy King will be retained, reassigned, and made responsible for finding his own replacement.
NEW YORK METS: A tip of the cap to one of New York City's adoptive sons.
Was there really any debate as to which team Mike Piazza's cap would represent on his Hall of Fame plaque?
I mean no disrespect to Los Angelinos - I don't know what type of relationship Mike Piazza shared with L.A. fans, and the community. So, if this sounds ignorant of me to say, so be it. But, outside of posting prodigious offensive statistics as a member of the Dodgers, his L.A. narrative is comparatively limited, I think, and more easily captured on the back of a baseball card.
The cornerstone of his brilliant career was indeed set at Chavez Ravine. Piazza stormed out of the gate, qualifying as a 24-year old Rookie of the Year. In 7 seasons with the Dodgers, Mike Piazza batted .331, and posted a .966 OPS. In 1997, Piazza slugged .638, and batted .362 (yet ponderously failed to capture the batting title). He did, however, set career highs with 40 home runs and 124 RBI.
The following season he was ponderously traded twice, first to the Florida Marlins, then, amazingly to the Mets. He stepped into the New York limelight as a 29-year old in 1998, and exited at 36-years of age in 2005.
In 8 seasons with the Mets, Piazza batted .296, with a .915 OPS. In 1999, he matched his career highs with another 40 home runs and 124 RBI, but saw his average drop to .303 that season with a .575 slugging mark (... a complete non-issues for Mets fans, as if. We were just giddy to have him).
Overall, Piazza played 243 more games for the Mets than with the Dodgers, posted 78 more doubles, 43 more home runs, 92 more RBI, and scored 89 more runs than he did with L.A.
Then of course, he appeared in back-to-back N.L. Championships, and one World Series with the Mets. In all, Piazza appeared in 22 post-season games with the Mets as opposed to just 6 total games over 2 NLDS appearances as a Dodger.
Numbers, however, can't account for everything, and there's the rub...
Born in Pennsylvania, he was instilled with a very grounded, blue collar work ethic, and at the very least, Piazza was also humble. So it was very endearing to hear him say New York City was, and still remains where his heart lies. Easier said than done, considering the litany of star players who've come to NYC only to endure fractured, even cantankerous relationships with fans and media alike.
Fact is, Piazza instantly became an adoptive New Yorker. As they say - this ain't Kansas, Toto. The author of Long Shot was no recluse. He seemed quite at ease within the frenzied pace and culture of NYC (and in his dealings with a voracious media). Piazza was about town, and routinely hung out on weekends at the local rock stations heavy metal shows.
On a more serious note, the understated superstar's majestic home run in baseball's first game played after the events of 9/11 had a healing quality to it - if I may - allowing not just fans watching at home or in attendance, but New Yorkers and Americans in general, a moment to escape their personal anxieties, respective grief, and the overall anguish gripping the city and nation at the time.
For many, you might say that night was one of the first steps towards regaining a sense of normalcy.
To his credit, Mike Piazza never allowed himself to be called a hero for playing a game. He continues to respectfully defer at every opportunity. That said, one never knows what they'll feel until it happens - and that night, the crowd, uniformed members of our various services, and those more closely affected by that event, spoke for themselves.
Not just as a Met, but as an adoptive New Yorker, he's intricately woven into the fabric of New York City history.
I'll like the Chiefs' defense as a starter. Then I'll take Alex Smith's experience and steadiness over that of Brian Hoyer's any day. The Texans might sack Smith, often, but won't be able to prevent points. Houston will look one dimensional. Thank you very much.
WIN; 30-0 Chiefs
Steelers -3 (BENGALS)
Third meeting of the season for them. This is going to be intense. Can Big Ben overcome a compromised running game and a sketchy defense? I've seen Big Ben do it before. Can the Bengals overcome the loss of Andy Dalton? I don't think so - and therein lies the difference. If you're one for trends, the Bengals tend to do their worst work in big games at home. But, hey, if you think this game will come down to a last minute field goal, then go with the Cats. Good luck with that.
Loss; 18-16 Steelers
Seahawks -5 (VIKINGS)
Whether by arm or by legs, Russell Wilson will see the Seahawks through. If the Vikings allow him to run, the Seahawks cover easy. If the Vikes stack the box, Wilson will exploit them outside. If the Vikes play it straight, Marshawn Lynch becomes a factor. In other words, the Vikes are going to get out-coached (among other things). The Minnesota Vikings WERE a nice story.
Loss; 10-9 Seahawks
Packers -1 (D.C. HOGS)
The Packers are in a funk. And I think there's a certain head coach whom senses his job in jeopardy should the Hogs win. On a personal measure, Aaron Rogers is performing at an all-time pedestrian level. That said, those Hogs can play respectable defense, and after finishing the season winning 4 straight, just might be catching the Packers at an opportune time. You know what they say - any given Sunday. But, we owe it to ourselves to pick Green Bay, don't we? Green Bay has a good pass rush, right? I mean, get to Kirk Cousins and the Packers win, right? Right?
NEW YORK GIANTS FOOTBALL: Thank you, Tom Coughlin, for all you've done as Head Coach of Big Blue.
I remember John McVay's last season as head coach in 1976, then grew into my Giants fandom under the stern guidance of Ray Perkins.
Years later, the Giants won Super Bowl XXV, I turned 24-years old, Bill Parcells left, in turn leaving me despondent, and thinking the Giants would never win ever again.
Then Ray Handley happened, making Dan Reeves a necessary, and welcome sight for sore eyes. Thankfully, the 1993 season served as somewhat of a healer. Despite the departures and respective retirements of many former Big Blue champions, Reeves helped me move on with life.
Then came Jim Fassel, and what I dub the Delta House years (lots of fun, but riddled with typical frat house consequences).
What a bunch of knuckleheads - really - the whole lot of 'em. For better or worse, guys like Jesse Armstead, Amani Toomer, Jason Sehorn, Jeremy Shockey, Keith Hamilton, Kerry Collins, Michael Strahan and Tiki Barker made Giants football exciting again, but in the most undisciplined manner conceivable.
Wellington Mara, however, was getting on in years, and so the renewed success of the Giants under Jim Fassel, and winning the 2000 NFC championship became perhaps one of the happiest moments of his life.
In truth, that Giants edition was extremely likable. It took me nearly 10 years, but I was finally over the departure of Bill Parcells (kinda) because of these guys.
Make no mistake, however, Fassel was the ultimate player's coach. Allowing the inmates to run the asylum ultimately cost the Giants greater glories, that sometimes were lost in quite embarrassing fashion. Jim Fassel earned his dismissal. There's little debate there. Change was clearly needed.
Enter Tom Coughlin - chewing barbed wire and spitting napalm at reporters during his introductory presser.
The unruly Giants didn't take too well to their new commander and controller.
Foolish me sided with the players in those first two years - all but Tiki Barber that is. I did not appreciate Barber's unrepentant, open defiance and denunciation of Coughlin. That's not how I want my team's players behaving. Therefore, in Tiki's case I was totally on board with the head coach. Otherwise, my son chastised me for my initial lack of Coughlin acceptance. Then by 2010, I was the one staunchly defending him against naysayers calling for his firing.
Jerry Reese was made to deal with Michael Strahan, and I applauded Reese's dismissive treatment of Strahan at the time. But, what has transpired over the last few years falls mainly on him, not Coughlin.
Did the Giants suffer from poor coaching decisions this season? Yes, but, that would necessitate expanding this conversation to include Eli Manning's play changing at the line within this new west coast system.
Sure, there's more to this than just that. That said, somewhere between the seemingly ceaseless litany of criticisms levied upon Tom Coughlin by Tiki Barber, and the two Lombardi trophies added to the Giants collection under Tom Coughlin, lies the truth regarding his long tenure as head coach.
Do I think Tom Coughlin quit ... because it was right for the Giants?
No. The Giants resorted to replacing both their offensive and defensive coordinators first. Naturally, the head coach is next in line for modification. I think Coughlin was respectfully squeezed out, and given the opportunity to leave under his own terms with class, and his dignity in tact.
Steve Tisch quietly wanted Coughlin gone last season. If you remember, Steve Tisch publicly lashed out again midway through this season. Suffice to say, he has not been happy. Then again, we all know John Mara is the real shot caller, and even he couldn't be dissuaded from enacting reform - not this time.
Tom Coughlin restored order to Giants football. Looking back on the Jim Fassel years, I say that with confidence.
Now, the time is right for change.
My lasting images of Tom Coughlin are three: his frostbitten face during the 2007 NFC championship game in the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field, and the two times his float passed me by during the Super Bowl victory parades down the Canyon of Heroes.
I've had my issues with Tom Coughlin. I stated them clearly to open the season.
Tiki Barber still disparages his former coach till this day, recently saying Coughlin took the will to continue playing football from him. To that I say, the Giants wound up better for it.
Garret Anderson - Brad Ausmus - Jeff Bagwell - Barry Bonds
Luis Castillo - Roger Clemens - David Eckstein - Jim Edmonds
Nomar Garciapara - Troy Glaus - Ken Griffey Jr. - Mark Grudzielanek
Mike Hampton - Trevor Hoffman - Jason Kendall - Jeff Kent
Mike Lowell - Edgar Martinez - Fred McGriff - Mark McGwire
Mike Mussina - Mike Piazza - Tim Raines - Curt Schilling
Gary Sheffield - Lee Smith - Sammy Sosa - Mike Sweeney
Alan Trammell - Billy Wagner - Larry Walker - Randy Winn
1) Ken Griffey Jr.
Had he worked-out his body just a little more, Griffey Jr. would have been even greater than his numbers indicate. His years spent in Cincinnati were overly compromised by injuries. Otherwise, his seasons in Seattle were epic. The only real debate is whether Griffey breaks Tom Seaver's 98.8% induction record.
2) Mike Piazza
I do not operate under the guise of suspicion. That is a dangerous tact in any walk of life. To me, it's simple - a given player was either a user of PEDs, or not. There has never been evidence linking Mike Piazza to PEDs. I'm sorry, back acne just does not constitute an indictment. Writers whom previously failed to vote for Piazza in the hope some evidence would eventually materialize should have their privilege revoked on the grounds of egregious bias in the absence of reasonable suspicion.
Mike Piazza was the most prolific hitting catcher of all-time - period.
3) Tim Raines
Yes, he got snared in the drug scandal of the 1980s. And yes, Tim Raines even admitted to sliding head first so as to not break the vile of cocaine he kept in his back pocket. Baseball, and legal system caught up with, and dealt with the matter. If you can overlook that, then there's little debating that Raines was one of the 2 or 3 greatest lead-off hitters of all-time. His only other mistake was playing in the same era as Rickey Henderson.
4) Jeff Kent
It's hard to find anyone whom actually likes this guy. I don't - particularly as a Mets fan. But, that is neither here nor there. His numbers as a second baseman speak for themselves. He was not a great defensive player, but then, many HOF'ers weren't either. You can dislike him, just do not deny him of his HOF worthiness. Championing a case for him does not come easy for me. Sometimes you just have to turn a blind eye.
5) Alan Trammell
His credentials have everything to do with whom you talk to. If you come from my era, shortstops were typically weak hitting, smallish, skinny, and above all primarily defensively orientated players. Think Mark Belanger and Buddy Harrelson. Along with Robin Yount, Alan Trammell was clearly a step above his contemporaries - until the likes of Cal Ripken, then Barry Larkin, Nomar Garciapara, and Alex Rodriguez all broke the mold.
6) Jeff Bagwell
See Mike Piazza. Then take a look below at Gary Sheffield and Mark McGwire. I debated this one way too long. Bagwell, however, deserves the benefit of the doubt.
The Hall of Very Very Good: Fred McGriff Edgar Martinez Mike Mussina Larry Walker Lee Smith Curt Schilling Nomar Garciapara Billy Wagner Trevor Hoffman
The Hall of Fame should be for the elite. I'm having to think these players too much, and so I would have to decline ... for now.
I'd love for Crime Dog to get in the Hall. But, take a look at what other first basemen of renown accomplished. Edgar Martinez was a great hitter - few better. I'm just not sure they were the elite of their day.
Mike Mussina pitched his entire career in the highly competitive A.L. East (against the Red Sox, and both for and against the Orioles and Yankees), and still fared extremely well. That said, if Jack Morris is not in the Hall, I can not justify putting Mussina, nor Curt Chilling in the Hall.
Lastly, I think Lee Smith was a far more effective reliever/closer than Trevor Hoffman ever was. I've never seen a closer blow damn near every big game he pitched more so than Hoffman. He is the epitome of an accumulator. Billy Wagner? Overall, I'm not sure writers take closers too seriously. The ones that are in the Hall, are truly the elite.
That said, I do believe in consistency and longevity, and the ability to accumulate a HOF resume without really dominating the game. There's something to that. I just do not think Trevor Hoffman was that good, at any point of his career (not in that division, unlike Mussina).
Not Even a Consideration: Barry Bonds
Read Game of Shadows. That's good enough for me.
Hires some dude as a personal trainer, lets him into his home, let's him inject his wife with juice, but Roger himself was never injected. That's what Clemens wants us to believe. Too circumstantial? There's Andy Pettitte's deposition too. Sammy Sosa
What a clown. At the height of his popularity, this guy spoke English like a British judge, and was even hawking tourism commercials for the Dominican Republic in very fine English indeed. Then, suddenly, he forgot every word of the English language when he appeared before a congressional hearing regarding steroid usage in baseball. Aye caramba! Gary Sheffield and Mark McGwire
They were just two of many whom turned the magic number of 500 home runs into a farce.