11th and Washington

11th and Washington: January 2010

Friday, January 29, 2010

Photo Friday: Padres vs. Phillies, 1994

It was a Monday afternoon in May 1994 and I was a senior in high school. My dad was on the board of education in our town, so he knew the administration well, so when the principal of my elementary school called to say he had extra tickets for the Phillies game that night, Dad and I jumped at the chance, even though it was, for both of us, a "school night."

The big draw wasn't the defending National League champion Phillies or the visiting Padres, with future Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn (who actually struck out once during the game). It was the seat location. Through a friend, the principal had gotten seats six rows behind home plate at Veterans Stadium. I had never been so close to a Major League game, and I'm not sure I left my seat once.

The real excitement came in the fourth inning. Mariano Duncan came to bat for the first time after being hit by a pitch in the second and took ball one, which must've been high and tight. Duncan probably felt that he was being targeted, so he must've said something -- either to the pitcher, Andy Ashby, or the catcher, Brad Ausmus -- because Duncan and Ausmus then started shoving each other and the benches emptied.

It didn't go much further than the shoving in the photo, but both Duncan and Ausmus were ejected. It was a lot of fun for a high school kid sitting six rows behind home plate.

For the longest time, that was my lasting memory of this game. Until this happened. Mr. Merce was the principal who invited Dad and me to the game and I always remembered him as a die-hard Reds fan, but clearly one who loved baseball in general. I went back to visit with him a couple of times in college and at least once after I'd graduated and was living at home, working for the local newspaper. My big regret, though -- and isn't there always one of these when a tragedy like this happens? -- is that I didn't get back for a visit after I'd started working in baseball. I'm sure he would've enjoyed that conversation.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Give Murph a chance

So it sounds like Fernando Tatis is coming back. Fine. Some right-handed power. A versatile player who can fill in at first base, second, third and the corner outfield spots when needed. A double-play machine. We know what we're getting.

I just hope it's not a platoon. Like Matt over at MetsBlog, I'd rather see what Daniel Murphy can do against left-handers. What do the Mets have to lose? This is a third-place team, at best, and it's going to take a 100-percent healthy team (from May onward) and some injuries to the Phillies (and probably Braves and/or Marlins) for the Mets to be in it after the All-Star break.

Murphy's still just 25 (on April 1) and though his similar players through 24 aren't impressive, there's one eye-raising name on the list: the Blue Jays' Adam Lind, who broke out last season ... at 25 (though it was his third year of at least 80 games). Of course, Murphy won't hit 35 home runs -- and I'm not as sure about 20 as Howard Johnson is -- but I could definitely see a .290, 15-homer, 80-RBI season out of him, much like Keith Hernandez's 1987. Murphy was a career .290 hitter in the minors, with just 22 more strikeouts than walks over 1,078 plate appearances, and I think that plate discipline will translate in the Majors.

I looked at Murphy's monthly splits in 2009, and his OPS vs. left-handers (though in admittedly small sample sizes) was higher than his overall OPS in April, May and September/October and lower in June, July and August (the month in which he had the most plate appearances vs. lefties):

April 70 .373 .426 .324 .800
April vs. LHP 8 .429 .429 .429 .857
May 71 .278 .353 .176 .631
May vs. LHP 11 .250 .600 .200 .850
June 77 .298 .320 .240 .618
June vs. LHP 12 .250 .250 .250 .500
July 85 .323 .393 .250 .715
July vs. LHP 18 .286 .333 .167 .619
August 114 .308 434 .292 .741
August vs. LHP 31 .219 .323 .194 .542
Sept and Oct 101 .311 .580 .290 .891
Sept and Oct vs. LHP 13 .357 .846 .308 1.203

No, the numbers aren't great, particularly from a first baseman, but the guy was still only 24. I won't compare them in a chart -- because in addition to different eras, ballparks, etc., I of course am not saying Murphy will become Hernandez -- but look at their year 24 seasons on Baseball-Reference. Eerily similar.

With the way the team is set up now, looking so much similar to last season's, I don't think the Mets should be playing the matchups when it means taking valuable developmental at-bats away from players like Murphy for players like Tatis. It's tough, at this point, to be saying the Mets won't be contending, but I don't see it. I'm not writing off the season just yet, because Opening Day is still two months away, but I am preparing myself for non-meaningful games in September.

I'll still be out there in Queens rooting for the team, because as I commented over on Amazin' Avenue, I can't root against the team just so that a horrible 2010 brings about significant changes for 2011. For one thing, if the problem really does begin with the owners' philosophy (and I think it does), a new medical staff, a true re-dedication to building the farm system (two things I wished they'd done this offseason) and replacing Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel aren't necessarily going to put a vastly different product on the field in 2011.

Man, this new dedication to blogging has really brought out the pessimist in me when it comes to the Mets. I need to work on that.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Revisionist history: Darryl and Dawson on the Mets

MLB.com's Bryan Hoch was at the Baseball Assistance Team's annual dinner last night and filed a story comprised of several conversations with some of the Hall of Famers and other baseball illuminati. This one particular anecdote from former Mets manager Davey Johnson, speaking about Andre Dawson, really stood out:

"I pleaded with [GM] Frank Cashen to sign him," Johnson said. "I said, 'It's not going to be expensive. I think he'll play for $500,000 and we can really use him.' It wasn't in our policy. We never signed a free agent, and Frank Cashen just wouldn't do it, as long as I was there, anyway. I really tried to get him. I really thought he was a heck of a player and I could find playing time for him."

In 1987, coming off of a World Series victory, the manager of the Mets wanted to sign Andre Dawson. And the team wouldn't do it. Amazing.

As Hoch writes in introducing that quotation, "suppose the Mets had acquired Dawson for the 1987 season instead of Kevin McReynolds? It could have happened, and while it might not have staved off a rash of pitching injuries in '87, maybe those '88 Mets could have overtaken the Dodgers and made it two World Series appearances in three years." Wow -- an outfield of Dawson, Lenny Dykstra/Mookie Wilson and Darryl Strawberry. And supposing what Hoch suggests would mean that the trade for McReynolds didn't happen, and Kevin Mitchell would've remained a Met. Obviously, he wouldn't have been a starter in the outfield with those four, but maybe he would've been a supersub, much like he was in '86, or maybe he would've been dealt in a deal for a pitcher who would've strengthened that staff in '87 and '88.

And since we're supposing, let's suppose what Mets Walk-offs supposed yesterday: that Strawberry never signed with the Dodgers. Not only might the Mets have had a second World Series appearance (and title?) in 1988, but maybe they would've done it with two Hall of Fame outfielders manning the corners that year. Maybe Dawson still would've won the MVP in '87 and maybe Strawberry follows it up with the one he just missed in '88. And maybe a Mets championship in '88, led by the National League's two most recent MVPs, convinces the Mets to hold onto Strawberry when he becomes a free agent in 1990. So maybe it's not that that big a stretch. You know, once we project Dawson as a Met in '87.

That's enough speculation for one day, but since it's getting harder and harder to speculate who the Mets might actually still sign this offseason, it's a refreshing break from reality.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dance-Off '86

Not only did the Mets win 35 more games than the Dodgers in 1986, but they produced an exponentially better music video that year.

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Spontaneous prose on the Mets' craptastic offseason

This post was going to be about Ben Sheets, but it just took on a life of its own and went in a totally different direction. So here's this ...

For myriad reasons, the Mets' list of offseason acquisitions is meager. Even that collection of names is misleading, because half of them were minor league deals, waiver pickups or re-signed players. So with just under a month to go until pitchers and catchers must report to Florida, the list of Mets acquisitions numbers just six:

Jason Bay
Henry Blanco
Chris Coste
Kelvim Escobar
Ryota Igarashi
Gary Matthews Jr.

They got a starting left fielder, two veteran backup catchers to compete or split time with their young backstops, a low-risk/moderate reward right-handed rotation/bullpen arm, a Japanese left-handed setup man and a salary dump outfielder who apparently can't hit for average or power or play center field with any ability.

They lost out on a reliable right-hander who wanted to pitch for the team he grew up following, missed out on a capable ground-ball pitcher who chose a nearly identical deal from the West Coast and rightly stood pat on their offer to a veteran catcher who wanted a guaranteed second year from the Mets but instead decided one year without even a second-year option was better -- and for less money.

Most players simply don't want to come to Queens right now, and those who do, like Jason Marquis, aren't getting a serious look from the Mets. ARGH!

I won't even go into the Mets' lack of prospects to even get into the discussion for the best available player this offseason, their inability to get a callback from the top free-agent pitcher on the market or their public-relations snafu regarding the knee surgery of their All-Star center fielder who is not expected to play in a meaningful game until May.

So, the nominees for the "Worst-Managed Winter, 2009-10" are: The New York Mets, for Band-Aids on Gunshot Wounds; the National Broadcasting Company, for The Tonight Show Clusterfuck; and The Democratic Party, for Curt Schilling, Profile of a Yankee Fan.

I'm not saying the Mets needed to sign John Lackey and trade for Roy Halladay, while also adding Matt Holliday, Orlando Hudson and Jose Valverde. I'm saying -- as many others have -- the Mets needed to address their needs, while recognizing the kind of team they need to build to win in Citi Field. They need to follow the Mariners' lead (which is led by a former Mets minor league director, Jack Zduriencik) and target pitching, defense and speed. So Marquis and/or Pineiro would've been perfect signings, especially at roughly two years and $16 million, to cover the pitching part. Hudson would improve the defense, as would Felipe Lopez, as others have suggested. And while the speed options weren't anything to salivate over, Blanco and Coste aren't going to beat Mr. Met or the 6-year-olds in the Dyna-Mets Dash.

The sad truth is that the Mets can't get the guys they want, they don't talk with the guys who want the Mets, and they can't even accept an unwanted outfielder from the Angels without insisting that Anaheim take their unwanted albatross in Luis Castillo. Salaries aside, Castillo actually has more ability and value for 2010 than Gary Matthews Jr. does.

But if the Mets want Hudson -- which it seems they do -- and they can't deal Castillo -- which it seems they can't, they simply have to swallow their pride (amazing that they can have any left), admit their mistake in signing him to a four-year deal, and release him. Eat his contract. Store it for future shredding to be used in a ticker-tape parade that the Mets' hierarchy seems to consider to be much more imminent than any fan does. I don't care. And I don't care if that $6.25 million over the next two years means they can't make one or two moves down the line. It will allow them to make the team better with Orlando Hudson today. Worry about later when the time comes. When the Mets finally unloaded Kaz Matsui to the Rockies, they still paid $4.5 million and all they got back was Eli Marrero. In 2010 dollars (derived unscientifically by subtracting 2007 from 2010 and adding revenue from SNY, a new ballpark and Citicorp), $6.25 million is pretty much the same as $4.5 million and a warm body named Eli. I don't even care about next year's $6.25 million on Castillo's contract.

The Mets need a spark, they need a transfusion of new blood, they need more than those six players listed above. But despite the doom and gloom of this post -- my worst, by far, and not likely to be repeated anytime soon simply because that's not the way I like to think of my favorite teams, but when the Nationals have had a better offseason, well -- I'm not going to spend any time now with an analysis of the Mets' offseason to this point. I'll hold off on any further reaction or projection for the season until the team convenes in Port St. Lucie next month. Like others, I'm not sure that the roster as it looks now will still be the same come Opening Day. I don't think there will be any big changes, but smaller ones -- if they're the right ones -- will help.

And if not, at least we'll find plenty of great deals on Stubhub to see the NL's best come to town.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Project Rundown: The Bucs' sartorial switch

I was looking through the Pirates uniform history in the 1970s on Dressed to the Nines and noticed something that seemed peculiar to me. In 1970, the club had two distinct sets of home and away uniforms: The traditional sleeveless vests the team wore through the '60s and the pullover double-knits familiar through the '70s. And then it struck me: Did they change uniforms when they changed ballparks?

Indeed they did. As the club's website points out: "The Pirates became the first major league club to adopt the new double-knit fabric uniforms, which they debuted at the first game at the new Three Rivers Stadium. The jersey became a pullover with no button or zipper. The pants contained a built-in sash belt. The cap crown was mustard yellow with a black bill. Within two years, nearly every other club was wearing a double-knit uniform. "

The Bucs' last game at Forbes Field was on June 28, 1970, and they opened Three Rivers Stadium after the All-Star break, on July 16. With the new stadium came a new outfit for the players. Obviously, teams have opened ballparks midseason -- the Blue Jays at SkyDome in 1989 and the Mariners at Safeco in 1999 to name two -- but they didn't change their uniforms at that point, wearing one version to close out the old stadiums and a new design to open the new place. I'm not aware of any other instances of a team making a midseason uniform switch, and I e-mailed Paul over at Uniwatch and he hadn't heard of any, either. Interesting stuff.

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No run for New York on the offing

The Jets' run may be over, but there is a fabulous George Vecsey column from yesterday that is worth a look. (It was one of those times where I had opened the story in a tab to read it, but then the day got away from me and there it sat, until this morning.) It was written to note how the Jets' 1969 Super Bowl win sparked a run of three championships for New York City in 1969-70, with the Mets and Knicks to follow, plus it has that awesome AP photo above showing Tom Seaver and Dick Schaap on Joe Namath's TV show.

But it's as much about the Mets as it is the Jets and it includes this disheartening passage:
The more I think about it, no miracle could resuscitate the current Mets.

This franchise has exhausted all the good karma from Casey Stengel, Marvelous Marv Throneberry, the sainted Hodges, the mix-and-match tourists of 1969, Mookie’s mad moment in 1986. There is no Seaver among this bunch, and no Payson, either.

And who can argue? There's only one Stengel, but the closest to him might've been Yogi Berra. The late-century/new-century equivalent might be Bobby Valentine.

Throneberry, though not an Original Met (he came to New York from Baltimore in May 1962), is akin to Jeff Conine being Mr. Marlin -- a member of the expansion team who will always be associated with it despite not necessarily putting up impressive numbers.

There are no characters to lighten the mood among the Mets' reserves (Jose Reyes is too good, and a starter).

A Hodges equivalent? Maybe Joe Torre, but he's on his last managerial job, and he's already had his run in Queens.

The Mookie moment? It could've been Endy Chavez's catch in the 2006 NLCS, but the team couldn't capitalize on it.

Johan Santana, as good as he is, can't compare to Seaver. The Mets are still looking for their first homegrown ace since ... Doc Gooden!? (And Mark Sanchez can't match up to Seaver for the Jets, because unlike Seaver, he didn't turn around the fortunes of the franchise. That was more Rex Ryan's touch.)

And no one's ever going to think back upon the Wilpons' tenure as owners with fond memories, now are they?

The one thing the Mets may have is the mix-and-match thing going. Sadly, it's more of the ragtag variety than any semblance of a team. Not unlike the mid-2000s Yankees, the Mets are going out and getting players, but they're not building a team. The Mariners improved by 24 wins in 2009 (from 61 to 85) while the Mets regressed by 19 (89 to 70) because they adopted a new philosophy and stuck to it. Omar Minaya's been preaching a team built on pitching since he got the job, but we've yet to see him stick to that plan with any consistency. He certainly made an effort last winter, but injuries undermined him. This offseason, it's as if that plan has been scrapped.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Everybody's doing it, so no one gets jinxed

When Mets Police and Deadspin noted that the Jets were pre-selling AFC Champions gear, I chuckled and posted it on Facebook, but I didn't dwell on it much more than that. It seemed a bit presumptive on the one hand, but I also figured it made some sense for the team to get ahead of the curve -- and ahead of Modell's and Sports Authority and the like -- and maybe get a few fans to commit a few days ahead of time.

And then yesterday, a feature about Rex Ryan and two of his assistants in the New York Times noted the gear on sale at the end of the story -- and also said that the Colts, Saints and Vikings also had conference champions gear (with the Super Bowl logo) available for pre-order. So then it was no longer a Jets thing -- it's an NFL thing. I don't know if the league mandated the pre-sale, encouraged it or simply made the gear (or at least the images of them) available for the teams' respective online shops. And of course there have already been shipments of the apparel to the physical team stores, the Superdome and Lucas Oil Stadium and the local sporting goods stores in the greater metropolitan areas of Minneapolis, Indianapolis, New Jersey/New York and New Orleans -- all so that they can begin selling and distributing the souvenirs as soon as the game goes final (not to mention pass out the hats and T-shirts to the players on the field).

As for the presale, maybe the NFL figures it'll get some new online customers out of it, a few more e-mail addresses, a few more credit cards stored in online accounts (which would encourage repeat customers). The rapid rise and broad reach of the NFL didn't happen without strong marketing, so the league obviously knows what it's doing. However, while the internet makes it easy and inexpensive to set up a presale like this, I can't think of one true fan who would take the risk of jinxing his or her team by placing an order for conference championship gear before the game kicks off. Plus, those fans are going to want their gear on Monday morning --not Monday afternoon or Tuesday or Wednesday or whenever even the fastest shipping on a pre-order would get it to them -- so they'll go to their local stores or the downtown team shops first. Even those transplanted fans across the country and around the world who would have to shop online because the local stores won't have the gear will likely wait until the clock reaches zero for the fourth time before clicking "Add to cart."

I can only dream about someday having this dilemma with the Mets.

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Mets can't miss out on Sheets, too

The interest in free-agent rehab project Ben Sheets seems to involve four teams: the A's, Cubs, Mets and Rangers. There might be a few others lurking on the fringe, waiting to swoop in with a stealth offer, but it seems likely that Sheets will eventually sign with one of those four clubs.

While the Rangers might seem like the frontrunner, based on their near-deal a year ago and their employment of Sheets' former pitching coach, Mike Maddux, it's unlikely. For one thing, the Rangers seem to be finished with any major acquisitions, they were just sold and Sheets' current demands probably price him out of their remaining budget. OK, so three things. Plus, as a coworker speculated, would they want to take the chance with another risky signing after putting so much into their addition of Rich Harden?

The Cubs' interest seems to have been devalued almost as soon as it was speculated, which may leave the two teams who have been jilted the most this offseason fighting over a question mark who is asking for a lot of guaranteed money for a guy who last pitched in September 2008 and could not contribute to the Brewers' final push to the Wild Card and their NLDS against the Phillies.

Jilted so much already this offseason, the Mets need to bring in Sheets just on the chance that he can once again be a strikeout pitcher who won't be hurt by Citi Field's expansive outfield gaps or the team's suspect defense on the right side of the infield. They need a fifth pitcher to pencil into the rotation heading into Spring Training -- when they'll be watching closely a rotation that has no sure things. Johan Santana, John Maine and Oliver Perez are coming off of injuries. Mike Pelfrey didn't make the strides expected of him. And Jon Niese, just to throw out one possibility for the fifth starter, is both coming off of injury and still unproven. Sheets is necessary and Jon Garland might be, too, simply to give the Mets a fighting chance at hanging around the division leaders through the summer solstice.

And, frankly, the Mets might need to sign Sheets just to give some of us a little more hope heading into Spring Training.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Photo Friday: Angels vs. Yankees, 1992

Didn't get around to today's slideshow as early as I have the past two weeks, so no attempt at a soundtrack today and no particular reason for choosing this set.

This was a late-August game between two teams going nowhere in 1992: the Angels and Yankees. California, as the Angels were known then, won, 7-3, and Tim Salmon hit his first Major League home run, which is why this particular game always stood out in my memory. Years ago, when I discovered Retrosheet.org and its archive of box scores, I wanted to track down every game I'd attended. Finding this one was easy, because I remembered Salmon's milestone. Same goes for Mo Vaughn, who hit his first homer about two months before this in Baltimore's Memorial Stadium (I'll eventually post my pics from that day).

Nothing particularly wonderful about this set. It was before I'd gotten my first SLR camera, so I'm using my mom's point-and-shoot, the first camera I'd used that had a zoom function. But the settings couldn't be adjusted, even if I knew what to do back then at almost 16 years old, so there is definitely some blurring that could've been prevented had I known what to do. So even though they might not hold up to my personal standards today, I've decided to include them for what they are: The memory and record of what I focused on and what I saw 17 years ago.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

When the Mets leased New York

I've been sitting on a recent article by Tyler Kepner in The New York Times because I haven't had the time to finish all the research I'd intended for this post. The piece included an interesting statistic (and echoed some of what I wrote upon Andre Dawson's induction): Kepner points out that, from 1979-83, the Montreal Expos ranked no lower than fourth in the National League in attendance. After watching the team's demise at the beginning of this century because of a lack of fan interest, that is an eye-opening note to those of us who became baseball fans as children in the '80s, because most of what we know in baseball has been about big markets drawing the fans while the small markets suffer -- especially for those of us who grew up around the big markets like New York.

Montreal clearly suffered with its mausoleum-as-ballpark, and the strike in 1994 with the Expos leading the NL East (Kepner points out that they were on pace to win 105 games) was probably the last great hope for baseball in Montreal. If that team -- with Cliff Floyd, Moises Alou, Marquis Grissom, Larry Walker, Pedro Martinez and John Wetteland had won the division, it might've sparked passion in the team, which could've led to revenue -- perhaps a new ballpark -- and the retention of all those great young players.

But back to the attendance. In the New York area, we tend to think of the Yankees as kings of New York, with the Mets second. But there have been periods when the Mets were the more popular team. The Mets reached 3 million fans in a season in 1986, long before the Yankees first did it in 1998. And from 1984 through 1990 (the Davey Johnson years), the Mets outdrew the Yankees, 16,345,325 to 15,542,726. The Mets ranked higher in the Majors in attendance than the Yankees in each of those years, never ranked lower than fourth overall after '84 and ranked second from '85-87 and first in '88. Granted, it's a very small stretch in the nearly 50 years of Mets-Yankees co-habitation in New York City (My god! We're coming up on the Mets' 50th anniversary!), but it's worth noting that, while the Yankees have generally owned the town throughout, they at least leased it to the Mets for a time.

Team Attendance and MLB Rankings, 1979-90

Expos Rank Mets Rank Yankees Rank
1979 2,102,173 8 788,905 24 2,537,765 3
1980 2,208,175 7 1,192,073 19 2,627,417 3
1981 1,534,564 4 704,244 18 1,614,353 3
1982 2,318,292 4 1,323,036 18 2,041,219 7
1983 2,320,651 4 1,112,774 23 2,257,976 6
1984 1,606,531 17 1,842,695 11 1,821,815 12
1985 1,502,494 17 2,761,601 2 2,214,587 7
1986 1,128,981 24 2,767,601 2 2,268,030 7
1987 1,850,324 17 3,034,129 2 2,427,672 6
1988 1,478,659 22 3,055,445 1 2,633,701 5
1989 1,783,533 20 2,918,710 4 2,170,485 12
1990 1,373,087 23 2,732,745 4 2,006,436 14

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Another blanking for Brodeur

Career shutout No. 108 for Martin Brodeur tonight in a 2-0 win over the Panthers. He leads the NHL with seven this season, the most he's had since he last led the league, with 12 in 2006-07.

Brodeur's played 46 games this season, so he's averaging a shutout every seven games (the math comes out to 6.6). The Devils have 13 games before the break for the Winter Olympics, so it's not likely Brodeur will tie Walter Johnson's career shutout mark of 110 before then, especially since he'll likely sit out a game or two.

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The 'King of Queens' at Shea

I took a bit of a break from blogging, even the internet in general (just a little), the past few days, hence the lack of activity. And so I'm a little bit behind on a query over at Uniwatch on Monday that concerns this screengrab from an episode of King of Queens:

The question is: Which game is it? Knowing that the answer would be posted in the comments to the post, I did my own research before reading those, and we all came to the same conclusion: It's from Sept. 8, 1999. Getting that was pretty easy. Never having seen the show, I first googled to find that the episode aired on Oct. 25, 1999, and presumed that it was filmed during the 1999 season. I then checked the dates when the Giants played at Shea Stadium that year, coming up with two three-game series, April 30-May 1 and Sept. 6-8. From there, it was a matter of matching the lineups -- specifically the pitchers, Shawn Estes and Octavio Dotel. Estes started both the April 30 and Sept. 8 games, but it was Dotel who started on Sept. 8 for the Mets.

Knowing I had the date, I went to the comments to confirm that it had been answered, which it was. But a couple of questions remain, one of which is why the clock reads 9:19 a.m. (because it is daylight). Another is the fact that Brent Mayne and Rich Aurilia are reversed in the Giants' batting order, and Daryl Hamilton (No. 18) and Roger Cedeno (19) are listed in the lineup for the Mets, but they were late-inning defensive replacements. One commenter also notes that the out-of-town scores are from Sept. 7, which you can see in the Cubs' 2-1 win over the Reds (Cincinnati won, 6-4, on Sept. 8), and the late scores of several other games that have identical finals.

Here's what I believe happened: The scene was filmed the morning of Sept. 9. The game on the 8th was a getaway game, with first pitch at 1:40 p.m. The next night, the Mets were on the road. So the production crew would've had all day on the 9th to shoot the scene. The 9:19 a.m. on the clock is probably accurate, and the scores were probably snapshots from two nights before. (As one commenter noted, "scoreboards in 1999 had a snapshot function, and the info was simply 'copy and pasted' from the night before.") As for the right fielder in the screenshot above and in the clip, it's got to be an extra in a Mets uniform, because he looks nothing like either Benny Agbayani or Cedeno, the two Mets who manned right on Sept. 8.

As you can see in the scene below, the dialogue was clearly shot at Shea, but the closely cropped view prevents seeing more of the stadium -- probably because they only hired enough extras to sit in a few seats around Kevin James and the rest of the cast. (Same goes for when Leah Remini goes to the concession stand.) So the crew was probably on the field, as it appears to be when James goes onto the playing surface. While some movies have shot scenes in the stands during Major League games, this show clearly wasn't. In the clip, James goes on to the field starting at about the 2:45 mark. Note the official game footage that shows the foul ball that starts the sequence features a Mets-Reds night game -- June 1 vs. the Reds, because the pitcher, you'll see, is Orel Hershiser:

As to why the Mets' lineup shows Hamilton and Cedeno in the game, when they were defensive replacements and did not start the game, I suspect that the lineups may have been input by hand (hence the flipping of Mayne and Aurilia). Cedeno entered the lineup as Agbayani's replacement in the top of the seventh and Melvin Mora replaced Rickey Henderson (No. 24, leading off) in left field in the top of the eighth -- but Hamilton didn't come into the game until the top of the ninth. In other words, Hamilton and Cedeno were not in the game together with Henderson still manning left. So a snapshot of the lineups is not likely. I suspect someone from the Mets input the lineups and either wasn't a regular operator of the scoreboard or simply did it quickly, without bothering (or really needing, in those pre-HD and DVD days) to ensure accuracy. So maybe the person started with Henderson leading off, but then chose Hamilton and Cedeno by the lower half of the batting order. As for the pitchers' spots still showing Estes' No. 55 and Dotel's No. 29? To me that's a simple explanation: They were the pitchers of record. Estes took the loss and Dotel got the win.

The only way we'd ever know anything for sure is if someone from the Mets or the King of Queens production crew recalled the details of that day, and I'm not expecting either scenario. In the absence of any insider confirmation, I'm comfortable with my hypothesis.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

The Cobb Field story

Cobb Field (top) by trimworksconst; Dehler Park via Baseballparks.com

I put the Golden Globes on the backburner last night to watch Cobb Field: A Day at the Ball Park on MLB Network. Part of the Reel Hardball series ("Movies Out of Left Field"), the documentary chronicled a game day at the home of the Billings Mustangs in Montana back in 2007, Cobb Field's final year after six decades of American Legion baseball and six decades minus six years as a minor league park. The production offered much in the way of history and insight to the field's contribution to the national pastime.

The Cobb name in baseball usually prompts thoughts of the Georgia Peach, but perhaps not for students of Hollywood history. The Cobb name on the Billings ballpark came from Bob Cobb, a Billings native better known as the Tinseltown-based owner of the famous Brown Derby and the inventor of the Cobb salad. He had baseball in L.A., too, as the owner of the Pacific Coast League's Hollywood Stars. To raise money for the ballpark in his hometown, Cobb turned to his Hollywood connections for investments, getting money from Bing Crosby, among others.

A ballpark built in the '40s, however, doesn't offer much for the 21st century. By 2007, Cobb Field was the only ballpark in the eight-team Pioneer League that had not been replaced or renovated. The visitors' clubhouse consisted of little more than a bench beneath a high shelf along three walls. The visiting manager's "office" was nothing more than a plywood table attached to a wall, the cramped shower room contained a mere six units and the bathroom consisted of one sink, one urinal and one toilet -- all for a team of 20-plus players, coaches and traveling staff.

The nature of the short-season circuit, which starts play near the end of June and finishes just over a week into September, allowed for a unique circumstance for the Mustangs. Cobb Field was demolished in one week in September 2007 and its replacement, Dehler Park, was ready for the 2008 season -- on the same spot. Those fans who had been coming to N. 27th St. in Billings to watch baseball as children will continue to come to the same spot with their kids and grandkids. There may be no easier snapshot of the great distance from short-season A-ball to the Major Leagues than this Cobb-to-Dehler transformation of that plot of land.

Dehler Park shows up at the end of the movie for a comparison. Fans and staff are asked their thoughts and some wide shots provide a chance to compare and contrast. The photos above are the best I could find that showed a similar vantage point. Dehler is visibly smaller than its predecessor. The grandstand doesn't rise as high as Cobb's did, and the press box (not visible) fits into the concourse behind the plate rather than sitting perched atop the roof over the fans. Dehler, though, spreads out more down the lines, including grass berm seating. While Cobb fit 4,200 on its bleachers, Dehler has 2,571 seats and 500 bleachers to go along with the berm seating.

Over the years, Billings has seen the likes of George Brett, Paul O'Neill and Trevor Hoffman, and the movie features Toms River's own Todd Frazier. The game featured in the film was actually Frazier's professional debut after he was drafted from Rutgers. He singled in a run in his first at-bat, helping the Mustangs on their way to a victory on the featured night.

For those of us who have never seen a game in Billings (or Batavia or Greensboro or any other number of low-minor league towns), the film's relevance is in the fans' relationship with the ballpark and its team. As historic and quaint Cobb Field was, Billings probably needed a new ballpark to remain viable (here's the oft-used comparison) in an age where digital movies, the internet and increasingly technical leisure-time pursuits provide a less interactive entertainment experience. Dehler Park gives Billings what Cobb Field couldn't, just as Lakewood, N.J., did for the BlueClaws, who before 2001 were playing on a community field (it could hardly be called a stadium) in Fayetteville, N.C., as the Cape Fear Crocs. Fayetteville wouldn't approve a new ballpark, Lakewood did, and new ownership bought the franchise and moved it north. Billings won't have to worry about that now.


Callan Films' Cobb Field: A Day at the Ball Park airs again this morning at 10:30 ET on MLB Network and Thursday at 2:30 a.m. It's also available for purchase.

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The breezy comfort of a Midwestern, Rust Belt summer evening

This is the problem with having a blog but not being diligent about updating it through the season. I'll start a post but then get distracted or bored or tired and will leave it for later. And then it will completely slip my mind, and "later" is then defined as "months after I started." So in an effort to turn some of these drafts into posts, I'm going back to finish them off, continuity and relevance be damned. Sadly (for me), this first effort, a review of a visit last July to Cleveland, will be truncated and less detailed than if I'd written upon returning home -- or even returning to our downtown hotel, within a convenient walk and with a top-floor room with a view of the ballpark. Procrastination: It kills (memories).

Washburn on the mound

Progressive Field, home of the Indians, was my 24th ballpark (16th active), and though it's considered one of the "new" ones because it opened in 1994, after Comiskey Park and Camden Yards, it's now the 13th-oldest ballpark in baseball. That is, more than half of the current parks are newer. I mean seriously, think about that: More than half of baseball's 30 teams play in stadiums built in the last 20 years. In the NL East, the home of the Marlins is the oldest park, opened in 1987. In other words, the Mets' last World Series title predates every ballpark in the division. When the Marlins move into their new stadium in two years, Atlanta's Turner Field -- built for the 1996 Olympics -- will then be the oldest of the five in the NL East, meaning each one will have opened since I graduated from high school.

Jacobs Field was actually the next stadium to open after Oriole Park, so the two of them share the distinction of being at the front of the "retro trend" in stadium design, the move away from grand, hulking, massive arenas on the edge of the city limits to more cozy, intimate parks nestled into downtown or other neighborhoods. But what if the White Sox had accepted the Oriole Park blueprint instead of going big when they built the new Comiskey Park? The whole alignment of new parks as we know them might've been skewed.

My wife and I were there on one of the Indians' "retro Saturdays," when the team wore their off-white alternate uniforms, the night had a theme (ours was Beach Night) and the fans walked the concourse with their bobblehead giveaways -- Surfin Sizemore in our case -- in their arms. We watched a cover band sing Jimmy Buffett tunes from a stage set up by a temporary beach on the plaza outside the left-field gate, then took our time walking around the concourse to our seats on the first-base side. We got dinner, sampled several local brews and enjoyed the breezy comfort of a Midwestern, Rust Belt summer evening. At a souvenir stand on the right-field concourse, I chose my retro hat as Casey tried to convince a middle-aged man to buy a four-foot tall Chief Wahoo statue for $250.

From our seats just past first base, we had a great view as the players hustled down the line on groundouts and base hits. Ken Griffey Jr., Ichiro, Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo, Victor Martinez and the rest made the turn to the infield on a base hit or veered into foul territory when their batting average took a hit. When Franklin Gutierrez hit a two-run homer with Griffey on in the fourth, the two met at home plate and tapped their helmets against one another to celebrate.

That homer proved to be the difference as the Mariners won, 3-1, and with a listless Indians offense against Jarrod Washburn, it was clear when the Tribe scored in the seventh that it would be too little, too late. We spent the last few innings walking the concourse some more, getting one last beer in the bottom of the seventh and pausing at different vantage points for a different view. On the way out, Casey stopped to photograph the vegetable mosaics lining the walkway along 6th St. past Quicken Arena (home of LeBron) as the ballpark crowd filed past us. The pedestrian mall of 4th St. was loud and lively, the neon of the restaurants and bars casting a Kodachrome glow over our faces. We walked into the majestic lobby of our hotel in the historic Guardian Bank Building and rode the elevator to our top floor. Out our corner window, I looked over the rooftops to the soft glow coming from the ballpark. The toothbrush-like light towers were dimmed, leaving enough light to illuminate the seats and field for cleanup crews to finish their tasks for the night. Just to the right, 4th St. glowed with a bright energy.

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Firing up the DVR for Cobb Field

Cobb Field by trimworksconst on Flickr
As I have shown with Tiger Stadium, I'm always a bit saddened when a historic ballpark becomes obsolete and the only viable option for teams that want to remain relevant in their communities is to replace it. This goes both for places I've visited and those I never got to see -- or even knew existed.

That is the case with Cobb Field, formerly of Billings, Mont. I never knew about the place, and from the looks of things, it was what you'd expect from a Depression-era field -- little more than a grandstand stretching from first to third base, a rickety press box perched on top. Tonight, the field (named for the owner who brought the Billings Mustangs to town in 1948) will be featured in a documentary on MLB Network (preview) that will give an inside look at a day in the life of the old ballyard in its final season, 2007.

There's always something that draws me to these little fields, often tucked into the community, sometimes merely across the street from people's homes -- only a long foul ball away from a thump on the roof or a cracked window. I've visited two of them: Dwyer Stadium, home of the Batavia Muckdogs in upstate New York, and World War Memorial Stadium, the former home of the Greensboro Bats in North Carolina. The latter, dedicated in 1926, memorializes the first World War and was used in both Bull Durham (the bus pulls up in front during a road trip) and Leatherheads. (Photos to come in a future Photo Friday post.) I guess it's the whole "humble roots" aspect of the game and the quaint image of minor league life in the middle of the 20th century -- you know, back when ballplayers juiced themselves on little more than liquor and greenies.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Photo Friday: Cardinals vs. Cubs, 1998

Mark McGwire, May 1, 1998, Chicago

With the way the week started out, I had to go with this set for Photo Friday. When I went through the negatives to find that photo of Mark McGwire I used on Monday, I scanned in the rest of the worthy images to use for today's slideshow. I had a fitting song picked out, "The Apologist" by R.E.M., but YouTube's gotten smart enough to recognize music tracks and disabled the audio because of copyrights. And I didn't even use the complete song. Anyway, here's the photo-only slide show.

Update, Feb. 19: It occurred to me that Blogger has a video uplink button that I'd never used. Maybe, I thought, I can upload the video with the track that way. I finally remembered to try it and it worked out, as you'll see below. The version without the song can still be seen here, where the photos are a bit larger as well.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Stewart, Colbert on McGwire

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Myers wants to 'stick it' to Phillies

I go back and forth on Brett Myers. I've met the guy a couple of times, and he was decent, cordial, and didn't come off as a prick -- which he certainly can sometimes in the media. He can be a tough pitcher when he's healthy and focused, but he has had injury issues the past few years and, at times, it appears his emotions get in the way of his talent. When the Phillies decided to let him walk in free agency, it didn't really register with me. And I certainly didn't have much of a desire to see him end up with the Mets.

But after the Astros made it official yesterday and before I saw his comments as reported by The AP, I had one pang of regret that the Mets didn't consider him: I had a hunch that he was pissed at the Phillies and would be gunning for them when he faces them. As reported by The AP:

"I wanted to go back to Philadelphia, but they didn't show an interest, they had other obligations, which is fine with me," Myers said. He then promised to "stick it" to the Phillies every time he faces them.

With the Astros, he'll get just two chances (the clubs play April 9-11 in Houston and Aug. 23-26 in Philly), and if he's in the top three slots in the rotation, which it sounds like he will be, he won't pitch against them in that April series -- the second of the season -- in Houston. But with the Mets, he would've had perhaps four or five chances to "stick it" to the Phillies over the course of the season in the NL East.

For the heck of it, I went back into the archives -- literally, the brown accordion folder kept in a cabinet -- and dug up a short piece I wrote on Myers when I was working at the Asbury Park Press and he was with Double-A Reading. I didn't come up with the headline (it was a narrow two columns in a big font), but here it is:

Making major minor strides
Pitcher Brett Myers, a year removed from Greg Legg and the Sally League, has his sights set on the Phillies.

This time last year, Brett Myers was riding buses around the South Atlantic League with his Piedmont Boll Weevils teammates and manager Greg Legg.

Now with the Reading Phillies of the Eastern League, Myers is on a fast track through the Philadelphia system, with Veterans Stadium that much closer.

But heading into spring training, the 6-4, 215-pound, hard-throwing right-hander was just looking to make a little progress.

"I had no clue," Myers said last week at Mercer County Waterfront Park before a game against the Trenton Thunder. "I was hoping to move up at least one level. Of course, I would've liked to be here (with Reading). That's what I was shooting for, but I was hoping for at least another level."

He took two steps from low-Class A Piedmont to Class AA Reading, and now stands just two steps from replacing the "R" on his cap with a "P." But Myers did not realize he would be this close to Broad Street until spring training was nearly over.

"About a week before we broke camp, when they put up the rosters," Myers said, he realized he had a good chance of playing for Reading. "But even then it wasn't set. I guess it didn't really hit me until I got on the plane."

The move has paid off for both the Phillies and the 20-year-old Floridian. Through Wednesday's 7-2 win over Akron, Myers is 5-1 with a 2.57 ERA in nine starts. He's struck out 50 in 56 innings, allowing 54 hits for a .250 average against. The numbers are good for 10th in the league in ERA, second in wins, ninth in innings pitched and 10th in strikeouts.

"It's still the same game," Myers said. "It never changes. The people around you change. They get better. And hopefully I do too, or get better than them and stay ahead. Hopefully I can keep it up."

Drafted in the first round in 1999 (12th overall), Myers went 2-1 with a 2.33 ERA in the Gulf Coast League. Last year at Piedmont under Legg and current Lakewood BlueClaws pitching coach Rod Nichols, Myers weathered his first full season with a 15-8 record and a 3.07 ERA.

"I learned how to pitch, how to develop my pitches a little better," Myers said of his year in the South Atlantic League. "I learned how to work hard to prepare for a full season. I found it not as tough as I thought it would be. I prepared for it well. If I hadn't, it would've been a lot tougher." With a fastball consistently reaching 92 or 93 mph and a hard-breaking curveball, Myers is considered by many to be the top prospect in the Phillies organization and the pitcher most likely to assume the power-pitcher, No.1 starter slot once held by Curt Schilling.

"Ultimately, everyone playing this game wants to get to the big leagues," Myers said. "That's why you play this game. And once you get there, it's staying there. I just have to take it one game at a time, keep progressing and keep learning, and I'll be OK."

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Bring back the Fun

We don't have a Dave & Buster's in northern New Jersey, there's no chance of me ever setting foot in the one in Times Square, and I'm not sure if I've ever been to one. But regardless of all that, their "Little Fun" commercial is kind of creepy. Maybe it's the fact that it's a first-date kind of "plot line" and there are these creepy pint-sized doppelgangers scurrying around.

Despite his 6-foot-1 height, Jose Reyes is the Mets' Little Fun. And make no mistake: They need him back, healthy, 100 percent. Before last season, I declared in the office that Reyes could hit 20 triples at Citi Field. I still say that's possible if he plays a full season in 2010.

I'm always amazed when I hear or read Mets fans calling for a trade of Reyes or the owners in my fantasy league -- Phillies fans and Yankees fans, they happen to be -- say they're not sure Reyes is a good influence or he needs to grow up. I wouldn't say he's a bad influence, but I will concede that he does have moments of immaturity or lapses in judgment. But even All-Stars freeze up at times.

I'd probably put Reyes alongside David Wright as my favorite current Mets. The guy's a sparkplug, an excitable and exciting jolt of energy and, when healthy, a legitimate threat at the plate, on the bases or in the field with that throwing arm of his. Matt Cerrone at MetsBlog shares my admiration, and it's these words from him that spurned me to write this post:

I missed watching him play, and found watching the Mets to be a bit less fun without him; and, though the losing probably had a lot to do with that, his energy was clearly missed, not just in the stands, but also in the dugout.

If Reyes is ready to go on Opening Day, I expect a bit more from the offense, no matter how it is filled out. Until I see how this season unfurls, I feel the losses of Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado played a part in Wright's mere 10 home runs. Taking those guys off the bases allowed pitchers to pitch differently to Wright, and he probably tried to do too much as the last Met standing in 2009, looking for the three-run homer instead of shooting the gaps for an RBI double. That's a bit of a gut feeling -- an educated gut feeling? -- based on watching all or significant parts of perhaps 140 games last year, but I'd love to see splits of Wright's runners-on-base situational stats from 2008 and 2009, with Reyes or Reyes and Beltran, etc., on the pond.

Analysts say it starts at the top, and for the Mets in 2010, it may end there as well.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Another shutout -- and then some

Martin Brodeur stopped 51 shots as the Devils beat the Rangers, 1-0, tonight. But it wasn't just a 1-0 win, it was a 1-0 shootout win, coming after 65 minutes of scoreless hockey at Madison Square Garden. Not only did Marty stonewall the Blueshirts for three periods and overtime, he denied them on four shots in the shootout. Well, three shots after the first shooter missed the net.

The shutout is Brodeur's 107th, moving him within three of Walter Johnson's baseball record. The Devils head west for their next game, Thursday at Phoenix. The Coyotes have scored a Pacific Division-low 120 goals this season, the same number the Rangers have netted.

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Still a fan of the summer of '98

Mark McGwire at Wrigley Field, May 1, 1998

I graduated from college in 1998, so that was a special summer for me, too. I set up my spring semester schedule to only have classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. My friends and I popped champagne on our apartment balcony after our last finals. We caught a Cardinals-Cubs game at Wrigley Field on a pleasant May afternoon. After the commencement ceremony -- which took place on the same day the Yankees gave away Beanie Babies for a game against the Twins (and David Wells pitched pretty well, I believe) -- I came home to New Jersey and spent six weeks going to a few graduation parties and planning my cross-country trip.

And all that summer, as I drove out to California and back, I followed what has become known as the Great Home Run Chase. Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and the ghost of Roger Maris. I saw McGwire hit home run No. 12 that season, a ninth-inning two-run shot off of Rod Beck in a game the Cubs won, 6-5. When I stayed in Major League cities, I checked the schedules to see if the Cardinals were in town, just missing them in San Diego when I was in L.A. and in Colorado when I got into Denver. And in a small bit of personal symmetry, I was back on campus in South Bend, watching the Labor Day afternoon game on ESPN when McGwire hit his 61st long ball that season. An interview for a job with a local newspaper kept me in town the next night, too, when I watched him hit his 62nd. I might've teared up watching it happen.

It was all so compelling: missing first base in the excitement, high-fives from Cubs infielders as he rounded the bases, a bear hug with his son at home plate, Sammy Sosa's sprint in from right field, his tearful embrace with Maris' widow and sons. As baseball fans, how could we not become enthralled? The 1994-95 strike was still pretty raw, robbing fans of the World Series for the first time since John McGraw didn't feel the Boston Red Sox, of the inferior "American League," were a worthy opponent to his National League pennant-winning Giants in 1904. Cal Ripken may have broken Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games streak in '95, but that came too close to the strike -- and he would've broken it sooner if it weren't for the strike -- to help the healing. We didn't have enough distance.

Three years, it seems, was enough distance to bring us back, to capture our attention with a chase at one of the game's great records. We all watched, and few of us, I think, questioned it. Mike Lupica wrote a book about it. I bought it and read it and still love the cover image.

But even if we did suspect at the time that McGwire might not be all natural, we did so in a less accusatory tone. Yeah, it may have happened, but who can really say? It wasn't like today, when accusations of performance-enhancing are not brushed off so easily and we find ourselves pausing to contemplate whether or not we think the player mentioned compiled his stats solely on his own ability. When McGwire first appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot, Lupica said that he doesn't think McGwire should be elected. Bill Simmons called him on it. We're all still trying to figure this out.

In 80 plate appearances against three admitted or widely suspected performance-enhancing pitchers, McGwire hit four home runs -- two each off of Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte and none against Jason Grimsley. He struck out 14 times vs. Clemens (in 53 at-bats), five vs. Pettitte (in 21) and had none against Grimsley (but with four walks in six at-bats). But now that our suspicions are being proven, will we look at the steroid era any differently? Will it someday come to the point that, yeah, hitters were juicing, but they were facing pitchers who weren't clean, either? Are others going to come forward? Is Sammy Sosa next?

I never thought I'd be saying this, but I may not care anymore who was on steroids. With every new player whose name comes up, I think my outrage subsides a bit. I liked McGwire in the '90s and I can't say I like him any less now. I'm a bit disappointed, both in the fact that he decided to cheat and that he waited so long to come clean. But he still came clean faster than Pete Rose did for his transgressions and some of these other players we've got at the top of our suspected users lists. Knowing what I know now, confirmed, may sadden the 33-year-old me, but the 21-year-old from 1998 still remembers a great summer.

So maybe it's time Bud Selig and the baseball writers just give amnesty to all the steroid and HGH users from the past up until the Mitchell Report came out. If you used then, 'fess up, and all's good. Yeah, the numbers McGwire, Sosa and Barry Bonds put up may not be fair to Roger Maris, Babe Ruth (Sosa broke Ruth's record for home runs in one month) or Hank Aaron, but the 162-game schedule also wasn't fair to Ruth and so many other advances in baseball and technology have also tilted the playing field -- literally, in some cases. From expansion several times over to night games to domed stadiums to maple bats to elbow guards to dietary supplements to training regimens to ballpark design, the game has changed over the decades. Even comparing players of the same era is not fool-proof. Did Ted Williams hit 160 more home runs than Joe DiMaggio because he was more powerful, or did Yankee Stadium's Death Valley in left-center rob DiMaggio of a glut of long balls? Or what if DiMaggio hit left-handed? Sadly, maybe this is another variable to consider. Maybe, as others have written, the Steroid Era has to be treated like antithesis to the Dead Ball Era.

I'm not going to go out and buy a McGwire jersey and I don't see myself making an extra effort to get to batting practice and cheer him as hitting coach when the Cardinals come to New York. But I won't boo him, either. I won't make signs or yell insults. Maybe I've come to accept it, or maybe I'm just scared that the next name will be someone I truly adored, a name that will really upset me and shatter those memories of past summers.

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