Saturday, January 30, 2016

N.Y. Mets: The Hunt for Senor Octubre


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.

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