All posts by michaelbrianwalker

Currently: math/economics teacher at Ramsey High School, commissioner of both a fantasy baseball league and a fantasy football league Past: Graduate of Midland Park High School Class of 2000 and Colgate University Class of 2004, pricing/yield analyst at AvisBudget from 2004 through 2007, member of MPHS baseball and cross-country teams Fan of: Mets, Devils, Giants Achievements: Named "World's Slowest Eater" by everyone who knows me, played on the 2003-4 Colgate intramural-championship ice-hockey team, two-time IceHouse Adult League Champion, have twice been hit by deer while driving, coached the league-tourney-champion 2008-9 Ramsey Rams JV ice-hockey team (universally regarded by me as the greatest JV hockey team of all time), once ran 6 miles listening to nothing but Lonely Island's "Jack Sparrow" on repeat, picked Gonzaga 10 times to win the championship (yes, I was that guy before it was fashionable to be that guy), stayed for all 17 innings of a 2000 Newark Bears/Somerset Patriots game (and caught my only career foul ball at a pro game during the 16th inning), and have not eaten breakfast regularly since 1996

This Day in Sports History: A 17-Inning Classic

Because I was on vacation from August 16 through the 24th, I missed a very important “This Date in Sports History”, so I am going to observe the 17-year anniversary of this great game today.

It was Wednesday, August 16, 2000, when I attended the longest baseball game I have ever attended – a 17-inning classic between the Newark Bears and the Somerset Patriots at Commerce Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater, New Jersey.  Baseball historians should put this game in any “Top 4 Baseball Games of All Time” list, right there with Mets/Astros Game 6 in 1986, Braves/Twins Game 7 in 1991, and Yankees/DBacks Game 7 in 2001.  You all know the story of this legendary game just off I-287, so I am going to focus more on the backstory involving two of my closest friends and me.

My friends Jen and Dave graduated Midland Park High School with me on June 23, 2000.  The summer to follow would be a short one, as we were to start college in late August.  Therefore, we were very busy all summer long (Kid Rock) as we tried to cram in as many “Last time we will ever do/see _____________” moments as we could, not realizing that we could actually do all that same stuff during college breaks.  That summer; Jen, Dave, and I had different jobs, with Jen’s being a teller at Commerce Bank.  (I would later become a seasonal teller at six different branches in a three-year stretch.  I got passed around so many times that I was essentially the LaTroy Hawkins of Commerce Bank.)  At some point early in the summer, she learned that the Somerset Patriots played in a stadium named “Commerce Bank Ballpark”.  Naturally, she really wanted to go to a game there.  Naturally, when she asked Dave and me if we would want to go, we said, “Yes”.

The game we chose to attend took place a scant five days before I would leave for college.  By this date; like presumably most of my high-school classmates, I had already entered my “I’m scared to leave the only friends I’ve known for 13 years, but I’m going to act like I’m not nervous at all” phase of summer.  During the afternoon of this fateful day, I completed my first 13-mile run, the second-biggest accomplishment of that day for me.  Many of you know that I don’t carry water when I run.  However, on this run, I did stop 8 miles in for water.  I cupped several handfuls of water into my mouth from the pond/lake on Pulis Avenue just down the hill from the Wyckoff Avenue intersection.  You would think I have gone smarter as I have aged, but I did a 10-mile run in the Hamptons in February, and I ended up eating two handfuls of ground snow 6 miles in.  Both times, the H2O managed to give me the boost I needed for the remainder of the run, without giving me diseases….but I digress.

Continue reading This Day in Sports History: A 17-Inning Classic

Auction Drafts > Snake Drafts

Hello, loyal readers of BTB.  My fiancée, Madelyn, and I just spent some quality time up in the Canadian Rockies, a beautiful part of the world.  However, while I was there, I did feel bad that “Below the Belt” had to take a hiatus to wait for me to come back to the States.  Now, the wait is over.  I feel like Ron Burgundy coming back to Channel 4, shouting “We can do the news!”  Now, I can finally help the site get back to covering the big news of the past two weeks.  First off, I am so excited that Rutgers is installing a jacuzzi in the seating at its football stadium!  Secondly, I love that Don La Greca eviscerated a caller last week for saying that the Yankees should have pinch-hit for Aaron Judge in a win against the Mets.  Lastly, I love ESPN.  I love everything about it.  Not only can I now feel comfortable watching Virginia’s first game, but the Worldwide Leader even had the courtesy of putting up a list of “Fantasy Football Sleepers” during a Mets/Yankees telecast last week.  The list included Todd Gurley.  No Mets/Yanks viewer who does fantasy had ever heard of him until that moment, and baseball fans who don’t care about fantasy were really excited to see a random fantasy-football list show up in a Mets/Yankees game.  Great work, ESPN.  Furthermore……Oh wait, I am now being told that the site did actually carry on without me, and all that I just mentioned is old news.  Got it.  In that case, let’s talk about auction drafts.  Perfect segue.

Today was my 17th draft in the “MPHS Classes of 2000-2004” Draft, and it was our sixth year doing an auction draft.  At this point, I can no longer imagine doing it any other way.  Listen, you college kids.  Auction drafts are the way to go.  In a moment, I’ll detail all the reasons and examples why they are a hundred times better than snake drafts.  First off, here are the rules, as they pertain to our league.  Each team gets a draft budget of 200 fictional dollars.  There is a nomination order, not a true draft order.  When it is your turn to nominate, you say a player’s name and a dollar amount.  If nobody offers more, the guy is yours.  If someone offers more, that person gets the player.  Person after person can up the ante until eventually the price tops out, and the top bidder gets the guy.  In our specific league, we do not require teams to fill out entire rosters.  Therefore, we had two teams this year draft only seven players (we start 12 and have an 8-man bench).  Of course, this requires those teams to pick up a ton of guys on the waiver wire.  (Everyone has a 200-fictional-dollar auction budget too.)  So what makes auction drafts great?

Continue reading Auction Drafts > Snake Drafts

Mets Fans are Morons

Mets fans can be such morons.  I am a Mets fan, so I should know.  No, I am not a moron, but half of the dumbest comments I have heard in my life have come from the upper decks of Shea Stadium and Citi Field.  (The other half have come from the upper tier at Devils games.)  Also, the dumbest written comments I have seen have all come from Mets and Devils blogs.

Over the past two days, the stupidity of Mets fans has reached extreme levels.  For those who do not know, on Wednesday, the Mets traded Jay Bruce to Cleveland for a nondescript single-A prospect.  Essentially, the trade was a salary dump by the Mets.  Cleveland was willing to take on Bruce and pay the remaining $3 million on his contract.  For financial reasons alone, the Mets likely would have been happy to take this deal even if they did not receive a low-level minor-league prospect.  However, the trade looks more legitimate given that the Mets did acquire a player.

Image result for jay bruce

Reports indicate that the Yankees offered the Mets two low-level prospects in exchange for Bruce but were unwilling to pay the full $3 million owed to Bruce.  Therefore, the Mets chose the Indians’ offer over the option of getting two low-level prospects but having to pay Bruce suit up in pinstripes.  Some people think that the Mets chose the Cleveland offer because the Mets didn’t want to help the rival Yankees.  Shockingly, many Mets fans are aghast that the Mets would take a lesser prospect package simply because the team does not want to help the Yankees. Continue reading Mets Fans are Morons

This Day in Sports: Tiki Calls Out Eli

I am going on vacation from August 16 through August 24, but we have some good “This Day in Sports” moments coming up throughout that stretch.  Therefore, I am going to “observe” some of these anniversaries in advance.

August 19 will be the 10-year anniversary of a then-recently-retired Tiki Barber saying that Eli Manning’s leadership was sometimes “comical”.  So often, it easy to say, “I can’t believe that it’s been so long since (fill in the blank) happened.”  However, this one feels right to me.  From a personal standpoint, I was more than two weeks away from starting my current teaching job in Ramsey, and I had gone to a Mets/Nats game at RFK Stadium the previous night.  For me, that makes the Tiki quote seem appropriately old at 10 years.  For Giants fans in general (and I too am a Giants fan), anything pre-“Helmet Catch” now seems like a long time ago.

When Tiki made his afore-mentioned comment, the Giants were coming off a disappointing 8-8 2006 season, albeit one that did yield a Wild-Card berth.  However, an 8-8 season that began with a 6-2 start and ended with a playoff loss in Philly was not a good taste to take into the 2007 season.  Furthermore, Tiki had been the core of the Giants but had retired after the 2006 season.  Therefore, the Giants entered the 2007 season with a very questionable running-back situation and a quarterback in Eli who was still proving himself.  As much as we Giants fans hated hearing Tiki ripping on Eli, there were many of us Giants fans (like me) who were not yet sold on him as a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback.  Of course, six months later, he proved us wrong, but I am not going to rehash every detail of the 2007 season right now.  I figure I can milk several more “This Day in Sports History” columns out of the dream that was the 2007 Giants season.

Image result for eli 2007

A good Giants trivia question to ask your friends is, “What running back did the Giants sign as a free agent to replace Tiki Barber?  Hint: He was also the sole tailback on the field when Eli went into victory formation for the last play of Super Bowl XLII.”  While the 2007 Giants ended up having a good enough running game, this free-agent signee would prove to be essentially a non-factor.   The season saw Brandon Jacobs splitting carries with Derrick Ward and later Ahmad Bradshaw, neither of whom was expected to contribute much at running back heading into the season.  I will answer the trivia question later, but let’s just say for now that the signee was not exactly LaDainian Tomlinson.  Yes, Giants fans entered 2007 quite worried about the team’s running game and its offense in general.

During that 2007 offseason, the Giants seemed clearly in a transitional place.  What some Giants fans forget (perhaps purposefully) in their modern-day dislike for Tiki Barber is what an amazing player he was.  In a 10-year career, he rushed for 10,449 yards and also brought in 586 receptions for 5183 yards.  Furthermore, while most running backs are at their best early in their careers, Tiki spent much of his first five seasons (1997-2001) splitting carries with such greats as Joe Montgomery and Ron Dayne.  In those five seasons, he logged at least 200 carries only once (213), in the 2000 Super Bowl campaign.  Tiki had fewer than 1000 rushing yards during this first three years combined.  In fact, in 1998 and 1999, he had more than twice as many receiving yards as rushing yards.  In a league that was less pass-happy than it is now, the Lewinsky era saw him profile as more of a Kevin Faulk or David Meggett – a third-down safety valve for the quarterback – than a true workhorse back.

That mentality started to change in 2000 and 2001, as mentioned earlier, but 2002 was the year in which his Giants career took off.  His annual rushing-yardage totals from 2002 through 2006 were 1387, 1216, 1518, 1860, and 1662, respectively.  His receiving-yardage totals over that stretch were 597, 461, 578, 530, and 465, respectively.  Very impressive stats all-around.  Furthermore, in 2004 and 2005, he led the NFL in yards from scrimmage.  Tiki certainly put up great stats (fumbles aside) from 2002 through 2004, but people did not yet feel great about making him an early fantasy pick.  However, by 2005, he had put himself in the upper echelon of fantasy players.  It was generally accepted by then that LaDainian Tomlinson would go first overall, but that Tiki, Shaun Alexander, and Larry Johnson were all viable #2 picks.  This was, of course, several years before I first did an auction draft (Side plug for auction drafts: Doing auction drafts immediately makes your life 20% better.  Once you do an auction draft, you will never go back to standard snake.).

Anyway, Tiki finished his Giants regular-season career (Week 17 of 2006) with a 234-yard rushing effort in Washington.  (In that game, Manning threw for only 101 yards.)  That effort gave the Giants a 34-28 victory that quelled the bleeding of a 1-6 stretch that had led into the game.  Probably more importantly, this was a Saturday-night game, and the game destroyed the playoff hopes of several NFC playoff contenders waiting to play on Sunday.  That is why, by 2008, the NFL made sure to schedule all Week-17 games on Sunday with flex timing, so that the maximum number of games would be meaningful.

Image result for tiki barber giants

Returning to Tiki’s performance….Giants fans obviously were grateful for his great game and great season.  However, they did not like that he had retired while seemingly in his prime, so that he could pursue a media career.  Having a running-back duo of Brandon Jacobs and the trivia answer did not please Giants fans.  Furthermore, many fans did not like that he had announced his pending retirement midseason in 2006, potentially distracting the team (which endured a 1-6 stretch).  Also, he had been critical of Tom Coughlin on multiple occasions, and Giants fans had grown increasingly weary of his “Me first” attitude.  Therefore, when he joined the media in the 2007 offseason and took his afore-mentioned shot at Eli, Giants fans were done with Tiki.

I actually think that the combination of Eli’s two Super Bowl wins and the fact that Tiki’s media career did not take off as he had hoped (I am sure Tiki seethes watching Michael Strahan do every role that he probably desired(s)) would have made Giants fans come around by now to support Tiki.  We fans would have remembered the ten great years Tiki had as a Giant, because time heals all wounds.  However, I think that his leaving his eight-months-pregnant wife for another woman put him forever on Giants fans sh!t list.  It takes a really really really long time to heal THAT wound.

And there you have it!  It took me seven columns, but I finally wrote a “This Day in Sports” post!

Oh, I almost forgot – the answer to the trivia question is the venerable Reuben Droughns.  Let’s just say that, aside from getting a Super Bowl ring, it was “sort of tough noogies for Reuben” as a Giant.



Preseason Football is a Tease

Preseason football is such a tease.  As NFL fans, we are starved for football by the start of preseason.  Saturday, 8/5, represents the 6-month mark since the most recent NFL game, Super Bowl LI, was played.  We are desperate for football.  Sure, we are craving the chance to root for our favorite NFL team, but we also crave the chances to root for our fantasy team, our other fantasy team, our other other fantasy team, our entry in a “Pick ‘Em” pool, our entry in another “Pick ‘Em” pool, our entry in a standard Survivor pool, our entry in our “one buyback in the first four weeks” Survivor pool, and our entry in a “Margin of Victory” pool.

Tonight, on NBC, the preseason commences with the Hall of Fame Game.  Many of us football fans will turn on the game and get pumped by the Sunday Night Football theme music, which I assume NBC will use.  (However, the theme NBC unveiled last year for Thursday Night Football is underratedly better than the Sunday Night theme and is already on my “Top 10 Christmas Songs” list.)  Tonight, we will hear the beautiful voices of Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth, who together sound to me like a cross between Fergie and Jesus.  In my opinion, Al Michaels is and will always be the best NFL play-by-play announcer, not bad for the guy who authored the greatest call in sports history while announcing a different sport.  I also think that Cris Collinsworth is the best analyst in the NFL.  On every play, he immediately sees something that I would never see, and he manages to explain it very logically to a typical football fan.

Anyway, I love NBC’s football coverage, but the other networks do a good job as well.  When I first flip on a FOX preseason game, it is always great to hear the FOX football music (even though it angers me that the network now uses the football music for baseball too….that is like listening to Christmas music before November 15.  It is not OK with me.).  I am one of the few Americans who thinks Joe Buck does a good job, and I don’t hate Troy Aikman’s announcing (sorry, fellow Giants fans).  CBS and ESPN have good music and good announcers too, and FOX’s secondary announcing crews also get the job done.  It is exciting to hear any of these football voices, or football-broadcast theme songs, in August.

Image result for fox football crew 2017

Meanwhile, you might be wondering why I am fixating so much on the announcers and theme music while ignoring the play on the field.  That is because watching preseason games is really an otherwise awful experience.  Yes, it is exciting during the first minute of a game to see the NFL uniforms on the field.  However, after that first minute of watching the preseason game, this excitement is gone.  How exciting is it to watch starters play one series before giving way to backups, third-stringers, fourth-stringers, and so on?  Sure, I am interested in who will make up the back end of the Giants’ roster, but I do not need to watch four quarters of barely-NFL-caliber players fighting to obtain those jobs.  It’s just not my thing.  Even in the third preseason week, the one week when teams “play their starters”, the starters are taken out of the game at halftime (unless the starter’s name is “Mark Sanchez”).

Image result for preseason football mark sanchez

That’s why tomorrow is the start of a 5-week tease.  Five weeks from tomorrow is the first regular-season game of the NFL season.  That is the day that really matters.  OK, it is that day and the day of my fantasy draft that matter.  OK, it is that day and the day of my fantasy draft and the day of my other fantasy draft that matter….but you get my drift.  My Pavlovian instincts will be pumped when I hear the NBC theme music tonight, but I will subsequently feel let down when I remember that preseason games are not fun to watch.  I get no satisfaction from a Giants preseason win; I have no preseason fantasy teams; and I have no preseason pool entries.

Plus, there are the three extra annoyances that come from the preseason.

  • If, for example, a Cowboy returns a kickoff for a touchdown, you will see a stat tonight and tomorrow saying, for example, “The Cowboys now have 5 kickoff-return touchdowns since 2013 (including preseason).” Again, this is not a factual example.  However, the silliness is that nobody ever looks at preseason stats once the regular season begins.  It never happens.  When Tyreek Hill was getting return touchdowns last year, nobody brought up Chiefs preseason touchdowns of 2016 or years prior.  People try to make the preseason seem like a big deal when it is happening, and that is why networks blend preseason and regular-season stats (during the preseason).  I’m not buying it.  I don’t care about preseason stats.


  • Perhaps 50% of the players you watch in a preseason game will make an NFL roster, but, about 90% of the players who suit up, you will hear announcers say “The coaches say this guy is gonna be a stud” or “I think this guy is gonna be a hell of a player” or “This guy could very well be the next (enter great player’s name here).” Of course that figure of 90% jumps to 150% if Jon Gruden is announcing the game.  Look, I’m a math teacher.  Don’t question it.


  • Jets fans will act like every little positive moment for them in the Jets/Giants game is on the level of the “Helmet Catch”. This year, these moments will include things like, “Hackenberg is really turning a corner.  There was actually a receiver within 15 feet of that pass.”  and “The receivers aren’t looking that bad.  If I were in a 50-team fantasy league, I would feel totally comfortable using Quincy Enunwa as a FLEX.”


Actually, on second thought, #3 isn’t annoying.  It’s adorable.  I can live with this one, because I know how tough things are on Jets fans once the real games start.  It’s cute to see them happy for a few weeks in August.


Anyway; to bring it back to my main point, I am not into preseason football.  I actually am not into preseason hockey or Spring Training either, but I’ll keep the focus here to football.  We still have five weeks until the real games start.  Five weeks is also the amount of time between Week 17 and the Super Bowl, the amount of time between “Selection Sunday” and the Sunday after The Masters (for those of you who watch golf, for reasons that continue to escape me), the amount of time between the Super Bowl and “Selection Sunday” (in some years), and the amount of time you can count on Gronk playing for your fantasy team this year.  (Granted, you will absolutely go 5-0 during those weeks, if you have him.)  Five weeks is simply too long to spend watching a knockoff version of something I love, NFL football.  Therefore, I will flip on an August telecast here and there to hear one minute of theme music or announcing, but, that aside, I’ll be waiting until the tease ends on September 7 before tuning in.

The Experience of Hall-of-Fame Weekend

When the esteemed staff of “Below the Belt Sports” brought me aboard, they figured I would write “This Day in Sports” columns.  Well, this is my fifth column, and I have still not written such a post.  I promise though that such posts are forthcoming when there is relevant material to use.  That said, today’s post will be my closest thing thus far to a “This Day in Sports” column.

Last year, I had the pleasure of attending the Baseball Hall of Fame Induction (on July 24, so not technically “This Day in Sports”).  It was a delightful experience, and I encourage every baseball fan to make the trek to Cooperstown, New York, for at least one induction in his/her lifetime.  I think it is a veritable “Bucket List” item for a hard-core baseball fan.

The great thing if you choose to make the induction trip is that you can make it as a big or little a deal as you want.  Some people arrive at Clark Sports Center, the site of the induction, at the crack of dawn on Sunday so that they can stake out a spot very close to the stage.  Other people arrive closer to the induction time of 1PM and are OK being in the periphery of the crowd.  If you live in the North Jersey/NYC area, you don’t even have to make a long weekend of it.  You can go up on Saturday and return on Sunday night.  If you want to make a longer weekend of it, there is plenty to keep you occupied as well.

When I went to last year’s induction, I was coming from Albany, so I actually drove to Cooperstown on Sunday morning. I arrived an hour so before the 1PM ceremony and was fine with sitting in the periphery.  Yes, this meant that I had to listen to the speakers while only seeing their faces on big screens, but I was nevertheless happy to be part of the event.  I went last year because my favorite Met, Mike Piazza, was being inducted, and he was the first Met from my days as a fan to enter the Hall “in a Mets cap”.  There were 50,000 people at the ceremony, and probably 20,000 of them were wearing Mets apparel.  It was awesome to be amidst that many hard-core Mets fans.  Even at Mets games, there aren’t always that many hard-core fans.

Image result for mike piazza hall of fame speech

It was great to be present in Cooperstown for Mike Piazza’ speech.  He showed so much gratitude to the fans during his speech as he did throughout his Mets career, even though I spent 1998 livid with Mets fans for booing him (as he hit .348 as a Met in that, his first Mets season).  One of my greatest moments as a Mets fan was being at Shea Stadium when Piazza hit the 3-run homerun to cap the Mets’ famous 10-running 8th inning against the Braves on June 30, 2000.  All the Mets fans at the induction remembered that homerun, his huge homeruns off Roger Clemens (and the unfortunate events that followed), his game-tying homerun off John Smoltz in Game 6 of the 1999 NLCS, and of course his homerun in the first game in NYC after 9-11.  Most importantly, Piazza has always been a class act and an easy guy to root for.  Last July in a Cooperstown, it was a delight to share in a day of appreciation with him and with countless other Mets fans.

Additionally, at last year’s induction, I had the bonus that Piazza’s fellow inductee was Ken Griffey Jr., one of my favorite non-Mets players during my 28 years of baseball fandom.  During the 1990s, Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Bonds were the best two all-around players.  Yes, Barry Bonds likely made some choices at the end of the decade that Griffey did not, but that is a story for another day.  Throughout the ‘90s, it was great watching Sportscenter (when the show still did only highlights and never interviewed water coolers) and seeing Griffey scale the Kingdome wall to rob homeruns before flashing his trademark smile.  I loved watching Griffey.  In fact, the only negative on his career was the catch he made to end the Twins’ season in Little Big League.  That one really hurt.  The movie came out when I was in 7th Grade, at which point I was well-aware that I was not talented enough to make the Major Leagues.  Therefore, I knew my life would not be able mimic that of Henry Rowengarter’s in Rookie of the Year.  No, I was going to become a big-league manager, which is why Little Big League always hit home for me.  Well, as of today, my MLB managerial career has not yet happened, but Sandy, you know where to reach me if Terry Collins steps down this offseason….but I digress.

Image result for ken griffey jr hall of fame

20,000 people at last year’s induction were wearing Griffey jerseys, and it was great to see so many people showing their affection for him as well.  Interestingly, 30-40% of the Griffey jerseys were from Cincinnati, not Seattle.  That surprised me, but props to Reds fans (and Mariners fans) for turning out for the event.  On the other hand, not a single person was sporting a Piazza Dodgers jersey.  That’s right, the team for which Piazza played his first 6+ seasons and hit .331 had no representatives in the crowd.  There were as many Piazza Marlins jerseys on hand as Dodgers ones.  OK, you get my point.  We know that LA sports fans are generally pretty lame, and I guess that, if I lived in southern California, I would not be eager to fly cross-country and make my way to Cooperstown either.  However, I was still shocked to see no Los Angeles attire.

While Los Angelenos (obscure Billy Joel reference) might not be eager to go to Cooperstown, you – the reader of this article – however, should be eager.  Cooperstown looks like many other small towns in central New York (Yes, as someone who went to college in Central New York, I know the difference between “Central New York” and “Upstate New York”).  The only difference is that there are lots and lots of baseball-related stores throughout town.  Oh, and the Hall of Fame is there too.  That is probably the biggest difference.  On induction day, there are plenty of baseball greats – Hall of Famers and non-Hall of Famers alike – milling about town.  For example, last year, Howard Johnson and Len Dykstra were outside one of the stores signing autographs.

If you are trying to convince a non-baseball lover to go up to Cooperstown, you can speak of the beauty of Otsego Lake.  There are nice Cooperstown hotels on this picturesque lake.  There are also other museums around town as well.  Plus, it is a solid 1.5-mile walk from Cooperstown to the actual induction site, so you can get some exercise while walking through the beautiful countryside.  The walk even takes you over the Susquehanna River less than 2 miles from its source (Otsego Lake), which I know is very exciting for anyone who reads maps like I do.  (Warning: the Susquehanna is no wider than the Saddle River at this point)

OK, enough about maps and geography.  I can already see the BTB staff readying the pink slip to put in my locker if I make one more geography reference.  To summarize; if you love baseball, you should go to the induction at some point.  Yankees fans, you have two great opportunities coming up in 2019 and 2020 to see Mo or Jeter be inducted, respectively.  I urge you to make the trip.  You will not be disappointed.

Don’t Blame the Mets’ Rough Season on Bad Luck

I am a huge Mets fan, but I get annoyed any time I hear someone complain about the Mets’ “bad luck” this season.  Bad luck is the Raiders being Super Bowl contenders, only to have Derek Carr get hurt and wreck any chances of a playoff run.  Bad luck is the Indians having the chance to erase the second-longest active World-Series-Championship drought, only to have the Cubs, they of the longest drought, show up on the other side and steal not only America’s hearts but also a lot of the World Series tickets for the games played in Cleveland.  Bad luck is NOT the Mets having an extremely disappointing 2017.

Image result for new york mets disappointment

You see, “bad luck” implies that forces out of your control have conspired to give you bad results.  On the other hand, the Mets had the ability to control their results this past offseason, and the team chose not to do so.  While many baseball writers tried this offseason to sell us on the Mets’ vaunted 2017 pitching rotation, I saw great reason for concern.  I know you might think I am Captain Hindsight, but I swear I would have voiced my concern on this blog if it had existed in November.

The prevailing belief around baseball was that the Mets’ pitching staff would be: Syndergaard, deGrom, Harvey, Matz, Wheeler.  Yes, the big five young starters were finally supposed to be healthy at the same time.  Meanwhile, Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman would be waiting in the bullpen or in the minors.  However, as soon as last season ended, I assumed a few differences from this prevailing thought:

  • I believed that the Mets could rely neither on neither Harvey nor Wheeler entering 2017. Let’s remember that Matt Harvey did not enter this season off a 2.71-ERA, 1.02- WHIP season capped off by an excellent playoff performance with a 3.04 ERA and 1.02 WHIP.  Those numbers come from his 2015 season.  Instead, he entered 2017 off a 4.86-ERA, 1.47-WHIP season that ended on the Fourth of July.  Of course, Thoracic Outlet Syndrome officially ended his season.  What we did not know was whether his disappointing 2016 had happened because of the syndrome or because of things unrelated to the syndrome.  Frankly, it does not matter which one was the case.  Either way, Matt Harvey was set to enter 2017 off a season in which he would have soon, if not for going on the DL, been removed from the rotation.  He was also entering the season having experienced both the serious TOC and Tommy John Surgery in a 3-year span.  Meanwhile, Zach Wheeler had missed both 2015 AND 2016 with Tommy John Surgery and other complications with his elbow.  While many pitchers bounce back well from Tommy John Surgery, it is a different proposition after missing TWO full years and having complications with the elbow.  Plus, even people who miss only one year with Tommy John tend to bounce back better the second year after the surgery.  As a result of all this, I felt that anything Harvey or Wheeler would provide in 2017 would be a bonus.


  • I did not think Lugo nor Gsellman had pitched to a large enough sample size in 2016 to be considered locks in 2017. Gsellman made 7 starts at the end of the year, and 5 were against the putrid Braves and Phillies.  Therefore, I did not think the Mets could count on Gsellman against a full slate of MLB teams, good and bad teams alike.  Meanwhile, Lugo gave me a bit more confidence, because he had 8 starts with only 4 coming against teams playing out the string (Atlanta, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Miami).  Plus, he had many solid relief outings before entering the rotation. However, the sample size was still too small to let me consider him a lock to stay as a staple in the Major League rotation. Long story short, I felt that it was reasonable to expect 1 of the 2 pitchers mentioned here to repeat their success this year.  Expecting both to repeat it would have been pushing it.


  • The Mets could not count on Steven Matz, because he always gets hurt. In 2015, he made only 6 starts after debuting in the majors on June 28.  In 2016, he made only 22 starts before injury forced him to be shut down in mid-August.



Summing up, I entered last offseason looking at a Mets team that had only two starting pitchers on whom they could rely – deGrom and Syndergaard.  There were so many question marks with the rotation that I had to have faith that deGrom would bounce back from his September season-ending elbow surgery.  Therefore, I figured the Mets would have those two pitchers and either Lugo or Gsellman.  That theoretically left two open spots in the rotation.  For those two spots, I wanted the Mets to re-sign Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey.  While I can understand the Mets not wanting to spend $12 million for Colon (They are fortunate the Braves gave him this deal, considering Colon’s awful 2017 performance), Dickey signed for much less money.  If the Mets were shrewd, they would have looked to sign Dickey and to sign or trade for another veteran starter.  This would have allowed the Mets to let Harvey and Wheeler start Spring Training late, with the plan for them to come up to the Majors in May/June, when the weather was warmer.  This would have also served to limit these two pitchers’ innings. Plus, if Matz were to be healthy this year, Lugo and Gsellman could have gone to the bullpen, which would have bolstered the pen.

Image result for steven matz

As you probably know, the Mets did not bring in any support for their starting rotation.  As expected, Steven Matz got hurt before the season began and did not start until June.  It cannot be considered “bad luck” for the Mets when a guy who always gets hurt gets hurt.  The Mets could have planned for that in the offseason by bringing in a veteran arm, but the team chose not to do it.  Even worse, Syndergaard has not pitched since April 30, because of a lat injury.  That is not “bad luck” either though, because this is a guy who added 17 pounds of muscle without throwing at all this offseason.  While I try to give the Mets the benefit of the doubt with injuries more often than most Mets fans do, I cannot do it here.  I am not a doctor, but I know that, if you add that much muscle and already throw 100 miles per hour, your body will need to practice throwing with the added muscle.  Therefore, Syndergaard hurt himself by being stupid, and the Mets are at fault for not having enough control over their pitcher’s workouts.  As for Seth Lugo; sure his getting hurt in the stupid World Baseball Classic was bad luck, but that is the only piece of this puzzle that I consider “bad luck”.  Plus, that “bad luck” is offset by the fact that Harvey and Wheeler have pitched more innings this year than I ever would have expected.  Granted, that has not been a good thing.  Harvey has pitched to a 5.25 ERA and 1.45 WHIP, while Wheeler has pitched to a 5.21 ERA and 1.59 WHIP.  Both pitchers are now on the “DL” with euphemisms for “These guys have been terrible enough that we are going to say it is because of injury, even if we are not sure that it is really the reason.”  Hey, that injury befalls many greats.  Both Pedro Martinez and Johan Santana spent time on the Mets’ DL with that injury.  Nevertheless, I would say that those performances by Wheeler and Harvey justify my offseason beliefs not to count on these two.

Image result for noah syndergaard trainer

The Mets have also had other injury-prone players get hurt.  Yoenis Cespedes and Neil Walker have both spent plenty of this year on the DL.  The Mets made the choice to bring back those players this year, even though the team knew of the injury risks.  I agreed with those re-signings, but you know you are rolling the dice with injuries with those two.  It is not bad luck when they get hurt.  Meanwhile, Asdrubal Cabrera, Lucas Duda, and Travis d’Arnaud are other injury-prone players who have spent time on the DL, but the Mets did not greatly miss any of them when they were absent.  The one injury – other than Lugo’s – that can be attributed to “bad luck” is that of Jeurys Familia, but I will explain shortly why his injury is not enough to claim the Mets’ season has been sabotaged by bad luck.

Bad defense and a subpar bullpen have hurt the Mets this year, but those finish a distant second in blame to the team’s starting rotation.  The Mets have had a bad season because they entered the season with a deeply flawed rotation and chose not to improve it.  In the first 97 games, the Mets have had an astounding 27 games in which the starting pitcher allowed as many or more runs as innings pitched.   The Mets have won only 4 of those games, which is honestly more than I would have expected.  Anyway, that 27 of 97 games is approximately 28% of the team’s games.  Teams are not supposed to win games when their pitchers pitch that atrociously.  When that happens roughly 3 out of every 10 games, your team is going to be terrible.  Suddenly, there is a lot of pressure to win the other 7 out of 10 games, and the bullpen also takes a beating when starters exit early.  If you are wondering about who are the culprits for this atrocious pitching, here you go:


Gsellman (6 times)

4 IP, 6 runs, 5 ER

5 IP, 5 ER

4 IP, 6 runs, 5 ER

5 IP, 7 ER

4.1 IP, 8 runs, 7 ER

3 IP, 3 ER


Harvey (5 times)

4.1 IP, 6 ER

5.1 IP, 6 ER

5 IP, 5 ER

5 IP, 6 ER

4 IP, 4 ER


Wheeler (4 times)

4 IP, 5 ER

1.2 IP, 8 ER

2 IP, 7 ER

5 IP, 5 ER

deGrom (2 times)

4 IP, 7 ER

4 IP, 8 ER


Matz (2 times)

4.1 IP, 5 ER

1 IP, 7 ER


Rafael Montero (2 times)

3.2 IP, 5 ER

3 IP, 3 ER


Tyler Pill (2 times)

5 IP, 5 runs, 3 ER

6 IP, 6 runs, 5 ER


Lugo (1 time)

5 IP, 6 ER


Tommy Milone (1 time)

1.1 IP, 8 runs, 7 ER


Syndergaard (1 time)

  • IP, 5 ER


Adam Wilk (1 time)

3.2 IP, 6 runs, 5 ER


That is quite a hideous list.  Robert Gsellman seems like a nice guy, but he did prove, before getting hurt, that last year was an aberration.  His 6.16 ERA and 1.62 WHIP were very responsible for his “injury”.  I believe he now has the same “injury” as Wheeler and Harvey.  Now, I cannot promise that R.A. Dickey would have dominated as a Met this year, but a combination of R.A. and any other journeyman veteran could have been an upgrade over these awful performances.  If these two guys pitched 6 innings and allowed 4 earned runs every start, at least the Mets would have a chance to win every time out – unlike with the brutal list you just read.

Yes, the starting rotation has been a disaster.  However, many people are quick to blame the Mets’ bullpen for this bad season, and the pen has been disappointing.  However, this does not change the fact that the starting rotation has been awful and is still the main culprit for the awful season.  I looked through the game results and found that 14 of the 97 games have seen the bullpen sink the Mets.  When I say “sink the Mets”, I refer to games where the pen either blew a lead while pitching few innings, lost a game while pitching few innings, took the Mets out a game that they were losing slightly, or turned a sure victory into a nailbiter of a win.  If you want to see my full list, please contact me.  I figured I did not need to put this full list in the post.   I will note that I did not count games where the bullpen pitched, for example, 5 innings and let up only 1 or 2 runs, even if those runs include the winning run.  I also did not include games when the Mets’ starter left early to a large deficit, only to have the mop-up relievers pitch equally badly.  Those losses are on the starters, not the Neil Ramirez types who are merely eating innings in lost causes.  Knee-jerk reactions blame the bullpen for cases like these last two, but the stat lines indict the offense and/or the starting pitching, not the pen.

Earlier, I mentioned Jeurys Familia and said I would return to him now.  His injury could be considered “bad luck”, but the fact that his replacement as closer, Addison Reed, is 17/19 in save opportunities and has a 2.49 ERA and 1.11 WHIP show that the Mets are doing just fine in the closer department.  The lack of Familia haunts the Mets more in the sense that they now have two reliable relievers (Reed and Jerry Blevins) instead of three.  Therefore, the whole pen is weaker.  I do not deny this fact.  However, I feel that the biggest problem for the pen has been that starting pitchers have pitched only 541.1 innings, the 22nd-highest total in the league.  The more innings a bullpen must pitch, the worse the relievers usually do.  For example, Fernando Salas has generally been a disappointment this year, but it sure did not help that he pitched in 8 of the first 12 games of the season (although Terry Collins really did not need to use him in some of those 8).

It is actually comical when fans across the league complain about their team’s bullpens.  Almost every fanbase thinks the team’s bullpen stinks, and it is supposed to be that way!  Typically, a team’s best seven pitchers are the five starters, the closer, and the set-up man.  Therefore, the other five pitchers in the pen are the 8th-through-12th-best pitchers on the team.  How many teams really have at least 8 good pitchers?  Most teams would die to have Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman in their bullpens, but Yankees fans have hated their bullpen for much of this year!  At the trade deadline, every team’s weakness and need are “middle relief”.  Generally, the key to a good bullpen is not having to use it.  In 2015, the Mets survived much of the season with a relatively bad bullpen before acquiring Tyler Clippard and Addison Reed later in the year.  (Yes, Clippard was actually good in that regular season.)  The Mets a subpar pen because they avoided the atrocious starts that this year have forced the team to use the pen so early and often.

Speaking of 2015, most people think the keys to that year were Cespedes, Harvey, Syndergaard, deGrom, and Murphy.  I cannot disagree there.  However, there were two unsung heroes.  Bartolo Colon made 31 starts, and Jonathon Niese made 29 starts that year.  These two pitchers were not great, but they gave the Mets a chance to win nearly every time out and typically gave the team six or so solid innings.  That allowed the Mets to get by while managing Harvey’s innings, Matz’s injuries, and waiting until May to recall Syndergaard.  If only the Mets had brought in a few veteran starters this year, perhaps we could have been spared a good chunk of the 20 horrible starts (listed above) by Gsellman, Pill, Wilk, Milone, Montero, Harvey, and Wheeler.

Image result for mets 2017 bullpen

“Bad luck” is out of one’s control.  The Mets are having a bad year because of actions they made and did not make, not because of bad luck.

The Distraction/Asset Scale

One of the greatest ideas in television history was the Crazy/Hot Scale, made famous by Barney Stinson in “How I Met Your Mother”.  The whole premise of this scale was that, the hotter a woman is, the greater the level of craziness a man will accept in a relationship.  As a math/economics teacher and as a huge fan of that TV show, I think the idea was and remains brilliant.  Furthermore, the idea actually applies to so many more facets of life beyond just how hot and/or crazy someone is.

Image result for crazy hot scale

In any setting, a person will put up with more of a person’s bad traits if that person has many good traits.  You might avoid Johnny who does nothing but drop f-bombs in every conversation.  However, you might befriend Jimmy who also drops f-bombs in every conversation but happens to have a beach house.  You might avoid Richie, the guy who always starts fights when he drinks.  However, you might make every attempt to hang out with Charlie, the guy who always starts fights when he drinks….but also has Giants season tickets.  You get my drift.  I am an economics teacher, so I do tend to break all of life’s decisions down into a weighing of marginal costs and marginal benefits.  Every scenario listed above shows a person making a decision that allows marginal benefit to exceed marginal cost (or at least to prevent marginal cost from exceeding marginal benefit).

This brings me now to Colin Kaepernick, Tim Tebow, and Michael Sam.  Sharp right turn right there; I know, but hear me out.  These three football players have vastly different stories, but there is one common theme.  All three guys found themselves without NFL teams at times when many felt that the players were still good enough to play in the NFL.  Naturally, many people are quick to say that Kaepernick is currently unemployed because teams do not like that he kneeled for the national anthem.  Similarly, many people said that Tebow found himself out of the NFL because teams did not want such a religious figure on the field.  Lastly, some people say that Michael Sam never latched onto a team’s regular season roster because teams were scared of having a gay player.  I disagree with all three of these statements.

I feel that there is one reason why these three players found/find themselves out of NFL jobs: distractions.  There is nothing NFL teams hate more than distractions.  (OK, the Jets actually love distractions, but, if you were running that team, you too would to anything to get people’s minds off what is happening on the field.)  NFL teams have an owner, a GM, a bunch of vice presidents, a head coach, 53 players, approximately 106 assistant coaches (by my count), a training staff, a video staff, and a guy to tell everyone to stand back when a play approaches the sideline.  Being a GM or head coach is a grueling job.  These people have to make sure that all the afore-mentioned players, coaches, etc. are on the same page at all times.  The coach has to watch endless amounts of film and spent countless hours coming up with game plans.  The coach and GM have to make many personnel decisions.  Most importantly, the coach must have many, many conversations with all the people on his staff and team. This is why teams hate distractions.  Teams literally (and I mean “literally”) have no time to deal with distractions.  Every second a member of the team spends discussing a distraction with the media, talking about it with a teammate, or thinking about is a second not spent worrying about football.   In the NFL, that lost second could turn a win into a loss, no small matter in a 16-game season.

Anyway, let’s now circle back to the “Crazy/Hot Scale”.  In football (and sports in general), I believe the analogous scale is the “Distraction/Asset Scale”.  Odell Beckham Jr. can get away with proposing to the kicking net because he is a top-flight receiver.  Similarly, T.O. got away with pulling out a Sharpie because he was a Hall-of-Fame receiver.   On the other hand, if Preston Parker had proposed to the Giants’ kicking net in 2014; first off, he would have surely dropped the ring.  However, more importantly, the Giants would have released him because he was a subpar receiver creating a distraction.  Beckham and T.O. landed in the positive region of the “Distraction/Asset” scale, while Parker would have ended up in the negative region.

Image result for to sharpie

Let’s now return to Kaepernick, Tebow, and Sam.  If 2013 Colin Kaepernick had kneeled for the national anthem and then been released by the Niners, 31 teams would have been knocking on his door to give him a contract.  He was that dominant a player back then and was deep into the positive region of the “D/A Scale”.  However, many people forget just how bad a “still standing” Kaepernick played in 2015, his second of three-consecutive disappointing campaigns.  Months before Kaepernick started kneeling during the 2016 preseason, the Niners were considering releasing Kaepernick to make Blaine Gabbert their starter.  The 49ers actually contemplated that BEFORE the kneeling began.  Blaine Gabbert!!!  Anyway, fast forward over a year until now.  Pretend that you are an NFL GM.  You know that you need to sign a backup quarterback.  Colin Kaepernick is sitting there, having stunk on the field for the past three seasons.  Why the heck would you want to sign him and subject your team – especially your coach and starting quarterback – to endless questioning about the ex-kneeler?  When the guy has stunk for three years, is it worth it?  Of course not.  2017 Kaepernick is firmly planted on the wrong side of the “D/A Scale”, and that is why he remains unsigned.

Now, let’s switch gears and discuss Tim Tebow, the man that I pray every night does not show up in Flushing this September.  2011 Denver Tebow was well on the good side of the “D/A Scale”.  Sure, most of his wins that year stemmed primarily from great defense and stellar field-goal kicking, but that is why he was not given a starting job in 2012.  Of course, 2012 was the year when the Jets signed Tebow to be Mark Sanchez’s backup and to have other still-yet-to-be-unveiled roles.  As I mentioned earlier, the Jets love distractions.  The franchise certainly subscribes to the “All publicity is good publicity” mantra.  In training camp 2012, I am pretty sure that ESPN managed to move every single building from its Bristol, CT, headquarters to the Jets’ training facility in Florham Park.  Jets’ training camp was all Tebow, all the time.  The media obsessed over him, and he was the focal point of camp.  Some starting quarterbacks would have handled Tebow’s specter as backup QB just fine.  Tom Brady and the Mannings immediately come to mind as such quarterbacks.  Mark Sanchez, however, was not in this group and did not respond well to Tebow’s presence.  Did Tim Tebow directly cause Sanchez to be much worse in 2012 than in 2009-11?  We cannot say for sure.  Did Tim Tebow directly cause the “butt fumble”, which happened on Thanksgiving in 2012?  We cannot say that for sure either, but the possibility is on the table.  Either way, 2012 dropped Tebow firmly down to the bad side of the “D/A Scale”.  Yes, he received tryouts with the Patriots and Eagles, but those tryouts did not amount to anything.  In the end; following the 2012-Jets fiasco, no team wanted to deal with all the Tebowmania and hype just so that a mediocre backup quarterback could possibly undermine the starter.  Teams were not taking a stand against Tebow’s religious nature, just as they are not currently taking a stand against Kaepernick’s now-defunct habit of kneeling for the national anthem.  It all comes down to the “D/A Scale”.  Why have a distraction like Tebow or Kaepernick be your backup when there will always be a Hasselbeck, McCown, or Hoyer who can do just as mediocre a job while providing no distractions?

Image result for tim tebow jets camp

This brings us to the last prime example of the “D/A Scale”, Michael Sam.  Sam was a fifth-round pick, and fifth-round picks are far from sure bets to make NFL rosters.  This defensive end ended up being released by two teams between his drafting (May 2014) and Week 1 of the 2014 season and never ended up playing a regular-season down.  Sure, it is disappointing that the first openly gay NFL player did not play a regular-season snap.  However, when people wonder why no third team ever gave him a shot, I do not believe it is because he is gay.  I believe it is because there are hundreds of defensive ends to whom a team can give a tryout and hope it works out.  The chance of any individual from this group having NFL success is minimal, so why would a team choose the one guy that comes with distractions in the form of media hype and constant questioning?  I believe that Sam’s sexuality was neither an issue nor the distraction, but coaches and players having to be asked countless questions about his sexuality would have been the major distraction.  Additionally, teams knew that not only would they have to answer questions when giving him a tryout, but they also knew that they would be judged harshly if they released him.  That is why they stayed away and chose to give tryouts to a bunch of players of equal football caliber but with no potential for distractions.  GMs and coaches merely wanted to stay on the good side of the “D/A Scale”. For what it’s worth, I feel that, if Michael Sam were a legitimate NFL talent – if he were in the positive region of the “D/A Scale” – he would be on an NFL team.   Unfortunately, he simply wasn’t a good enough player.  I also bet that every NFL GM and NFL coach wants to see a day when it is not a big deal to have a player who is gay.  They just do not want to invite a media circus for a player who is unlikely to stick with the team. Lastly, maybe I am naive, but I believe that, within ten years, there will be many openly gay players in the NFL.  It will just take an openly gay player with clear NFL talent to break the barrier (in the regular season).

Speaking of “clear NFL talent”, let us now return to the “D/A Scale”.  The NFL is as cutthroat a business as exists in this world. GMs and coaches used to get several years to build a team, but those days are long gone.  The Jets fired John Idzik after two years of being GM, and many Jets fans are now calling for Mike Maccagnan’s head after two years at the same post.  The Browns seemingly change coaches, GMs, and QBs by the week.  It is a “win now” league.  Greg Hardy proved himself to be as big a scumbag and threat to women as one can be, but the Cowboys kept him onboard because he was a great football player.  Adrian Peterson missed nearly a whole season for being a child abuser, and the Vikings could not wait to welcome him back the next year.  For the Cowboys and Vikings, they felt those two guys were on the good side of the “D/A Scale”.  You might not like it, but don’t shoot the messenger (me).  Meanwhile, Ray Rice never played again after the elevator incident.  Is Ray Rice that much worse of a human being than Hardy and Peterson?  No, in fact, my gut tells me he is a better person than the other two.  After all, he has been the most remorseful of any of the three and has recently done community work to prevent domestic violence.  If someone were to say that one of the three has bettered himself after committing his horrible actions, Rice would be the clear pick of the three.  However, Rice was winding down as a running back and had dipped to the bad side of the “D/A Scale”.  Therefore, he is out of football – but not because of the elevator video…just as Tebow’s religious habits are not keeping him out of the NFL…just as Sam’s sexuality is not keeping him out…just as Kaepernick’s kneeling is not keeping him out.   It is simply the “Distraction/Asset Scale” that is keeping these players out of the league. These players all reached the points where the marginal benefit of their football ability had dropped below the marginal cost of the distractions with which they would saddle an NFL team.

Image result for adrian peterson

Our decisions in life always come down to trying to have marginal benefits exceed marginal costs.  This is especially true in business, and the NFL is the perfect example.  Over the past year, I have had countless conversations with people about Kaepernick’s kneeling.  I believe that an American should always honor the flag and stand for the national anthem.  I believe that there are many good ways to protest but that kneeling for the anthem is not one of them.  Meanwhile other people defend his actions as an appropriate means of protest.  That said, this debate is no longer the issue when it comes to Kaepernick’s current unemployment.  Today, his unemployment is not about whether he was right or wrong to kneel.  It is about teams not wanting to spend every day answering whether their unlikely-to-play backup quarterback was right or wrong to kneel.  Big difference.  Kaepernick’s employment status is not about protests, love of country, hair, or any reason other than the “Distraction/Asset Scale”.  If a team felt Colin Kaepernick could help them win, he would be on that team.  If his assets outweighed his distractions, Colin Kaepernick would currently be on an NFL roster.  The same goes for Tebow.  The same goes for Sam.

How Should We Look at Johan Santana’s No-Hitter?

Whenever Adam Wainwright faces the Mets, I think about what a coincidence it is that the man who finished off the Mets in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS ended being the guy on the other side of Johan Santana’s no-hitter, the first in Mets history.  I also think about what a coincidence is that the man Wainwright struck out to end that Game 7, Carlos Beltran, was the same guy who hit what should have been a double in the 6th inning of Santana’s no-hitter.  Of course, umpire Adrian Johnson incorrectly ruled Beltran’s hit a foul ball, and that allowed Santana to go on to pitch a no-hitter.  Meanwhile, this missed call begs the question, “How should Mets fans feel about Santana’s no-hitter?”  I think about this too every time Adam Wainwright faces the Mets.

As I have mentioned in the past, I consider myself more or less a baseball purist.  However, I am all for instant replay.  No, there should not be four-minute replays.  I think replays should be limited to one minute, simply to ensure that the obvious bad calls get overturned.  However, I never understand the people who hold onto the past and say, “I hate replay.  Umpires are a human element of the game, and I love that.”  It is amazing how many times I have heard that line since MLB started with replay in 2014, yet I cannot remember a single bad call in baseball history spurring a person to say, “I love that the umpire got that call wrong.  The human element is wonderful.”  It is a part of baseball lore that the 1985 Royals won the World Series in large part due to a botched call by umpire Don Denkinger.  That said, it is not a GOOD piece of baseball lore.  It is not wonderful that, with a correct call, the Cardinals would have likely won the World Series instead.

Anyway, this discussion brings me to Santana’s no-hitter, pitched on June 1, 2012.  Had the game occurred two years later, a 5-second review would have likely given Carlos Beltran a double.  I say “likely” because the “dead ball” sign from the umpire still would have ended the play.  Therefore, the review crew would have had to use discretion to award Beltran a single, double, or other.  I do not love this discretionary aspect of replay, but the system is not perfect.  Also, perhaps Adrian Johnson would have been more likely to rule the ball fair.  The logic now is that it is easier to overturn a fair ball to foul than vice versa, so perhaps umps now err on the side of “live ball”.  Anyway, semantics aside, in 2014 or later, the play in question is a hit for Beltran, and Santana likely leaves the game before the end of the 7th inning.  Meanwhile, the Mets go on for a ho-hum win in a fourth of six-consecutive losing seasons.  Most importantly, space-time-continuum issues aside, the Mets are now sitting here in Season 56 still having never had a no-hitter.

Image result for johan santana no hitter

However, the game was not played in 2014 or later.  It was played in 2012.  Mike Baxter’s no-hitter-saving, injury-inducing diving catch happened.  Terry Collins’s internal battle of whether or not to leave Santana in the game happened.  David Freese striking out for the last out of the no-hitter happened.  Gary Cohen shouting, “It has happened!”, after the no-hitter happened.  I do not personally believe that Santana’s throwing 134 pitches – well over his “limit” entering the game – caused his career to end a few months later.  However, many people do believe that it did.  Either way, Santana’s career ending in 2012 also happened.

This all brings us back to the original question.  How should Mets fans feel about Santana’s no-hitter?  Should we embrace it as every bit as legitimate as any other no-hitter, or should we feel that it has an asterisk and that the team has not truly had its first no-hitter?  Selfishly, I really want it to be the latter.  I say “selfishly” because of this personal tale.  As of 2012, my parents, brother, and I would always alert each other when a Met would take a no-hitter into the 7th inning.  Of course, we would not jinx things; we would simply call or text (depending upon the era) each other and say, “You probably want to turn on the Mets game if you don’t already have it on.”  However, on that night – June 1, 2012 – my parents and brother were at a rehearsal dinner in northern Virginia.  I was en route to that area as well.  While I am proud to say that I have listened to WFAN AM in North Carolina and Nova Scotia at various times in my life; I was not listening on June 1, 2012.  The night was between Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals, in which the Devils (my favorite team) were playing the Kings.  I was in full-on hockey mode.  Moreover, I was driving through a downpour on Route 15 through Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia and actually avoided having the radio on for safety reasons.  Plus, I figured subjecting my then-wife to a super-static broadcast of a June Mets game while driving five hours to a family wedding would not exactly win me “Husband of the Year”.

Therefore, my parents, brother, and I all missed the game.  Plus, none of us had Smartphones at the time, so we had no idea what was happening.  However, when I got out of the car at a Virginia hotel, my friend Dave had texted me to comment on the no-hitter.  When I read the text, I felt an unprecedented bittersweet feeling.  I had always known I would be incredibly excited when the Mets pitched their first no-hitter, but it was a tough blow not to witness it on TV or hear it over the radio.  Therefore, I spent several minutes vacillating between euphoria and disappointment.

Because I personally missed the no-hitter, I really want to be able to say that it does not count.  However, I have watched it so many times on replay, and it is an amazing night in Mets history.  I get chills watching Baxter’s catch (“I’m not even mad; I’m actually impressed”) and listening to Ron Darling say, “(Leaving Johan in) is a runaway train right now.  It’s out of (Terry’s) control.”  It is always emotional to watch Santana rejoice with his fans and teammates, knowing that he had overcome major shoulder surgery to give Mets fans something they had never experienced.  My friend Dayna was at the game and has talked about what an incredible experience the game was, and I know that anyone else who was at the game or watched it on TV feels the same way.

Image result for johan santana no hitter

Therefore, it would be selfish for me to say the no-hitter is illegitimate because of the missed call, because all of that emotion for Santana, his teammates, the broadcasters, and the fans actually happened.  Therefore, the no-hitter is every bit as real as any without botched calls.  That said, if and when the Mets get a second no-hitter, all Mets fans can enjoy the fact that every call was legit, and I can hopefully enjoy having watched it live!

I Wish the ASG Were Better, but Let’s Appreciate It for What It Is

I would first like to thank the esteemed staff of “Below the Belt Sports” for allowing me to write for their blog.  As a 35-year-old joining a cast of college students, hopefully I can provide something different and positive in a “Danny DeVito” joining the “Always Sunny” cast sort of way.  Don’t worry, Danny.  I promise not to compare myself to you again.

Anyway, this is a sports blog, so let’s talk about sports.  I wish the MLB All-Star Game were more exciting.  I feel that way, and you feel that way; but guess what?  I am always going to watch it, and so are you if you are a baseball fan.  Yes, I tend to watch the opening ceremonies, introduction of players, and first few innings before losing interest amidst a revolving door of lineup changes.  However, it’s still the only good TV on a Tuesday night in July, and it’s still the best All-Star Game of the major sports.  This year, we even got the added bonus of a clean-shaven Joe Buck.  Honestly nothing is sadder than his attempts at growing facial hair.

Writers and reporters are always trying to come up with ways to improve the All-Star Game.  However, the only good one I have heard is infeasible.  This would be to have the starting position players play the whole game and use pinch-hitters only when strategically necessary.  This change would also have pitchers tossing more than just one inning.  From an excitement standpoint, I love this idea.  However, the modern MLB player is never going to commit to going to the All-Star Game to sit the pine for nine innings, and I don’t blame him.  The season is a grind, and four days of rest sure beats flying across the country to watch an exhibition.

Yes, people who remember baseball in the 1960s (No, I am not one of these people) remember a day when league pride was huge and the All-Star managers heeded Herm Edwards by following one mantra, “You play to win the game.”  (even if managers would have needed a Delorean and flux capacitor to know the quote)  I am sure the All-Star Game was more exciting when the two leagues were going all-out to win and when future Hall-of-Famers played nine innings. However, the other main reasons for the dip in All-Star Game excitement are good things for baseball.  Free agency, Interleague play, and vastly increased media coverage for regular-season games are the main reasons why players and fans alike get less excitement and interest from the All-Star Game than in the olden days.  In the 1960s, it was novel to see Hank Aaron face Jim Palmer.  Actually, as fans, it was novel to see Hank Aaron, period.  There were so few televised games, especially out-of-market games.  Now, we live in an era where players can change teams, can face each other in Interleague play (I am a purist who does not like Interleague play, but I’m in the minority there.  It’s not the hill I’m going to die on.), and can be seen 162 games a year in any market….unless your name is “Robinson Cano”.  Until last night, I thought that he had retired after 2013, and I had also assumed that the Mariners had closed up shop after the 2001 ALCS.   Anyway, Cano aside, I am glad that MLB has seen the afore-mentioned positive developments over the years.   That said, if the cost of these positive changes to the sport is a weaker All-Star Game, big deal.

The truth is that I have watched the past 28 All-Star Games, after last night.  All of those games have been during the era of massive amounts of substitutions.  They have all been in the era of free agency, and 21 have been in the era of Interleague play.  Yes, I am more likely to lose focus on the All-Star Game than on a Mets game.  Sure, the games themselves are not always that compelling, but there are still great moments – Cal Ripken Jr.’s homerun in his last All-Star game, Torii Hunter robbing Barry Bonds of a homerun in that same 2001 game, Ichiro legging out an inside-the-park homerun in San Francisco, Dan Uggla striking out AND making three errors all in extra innings at Yankee Stadium, and The Artist Formerly Known as Matt Harvey electrifying Citi Field in 2013.  I love the NFL and NHL every bit as much as I love MLB, but no moments from their All-Star Games have any staying power.  I might space out at times during an MLB All-Star Game, but there are plenty of years where I don’t even try to watch the Pro Bowl or NHL All-Star Game.  I will add that I am not a huge NBA guy, so I cannot speak for moments in the NBA All-Star Game.  However, at least the NBA has the benefit of being able to have the top guys on the court at the end of an All-Star Game.

Anyway, I wish the MLB All-Star Game were more exciting, but let’s stop trying to improve it.  It is what it is.  Thank goodness World Series homefield advantage no longer rides on it.  I would have preferred to give homefield advantage to the team from the league with a better record in Interleague play (to re-establish a modicum of league pride), but I am perfectly fine of giving it to the team with the better record (as is done in the NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Final).

Sure, the MLB All-Star Game is not what it once was, but let’s just enjoy it for what it is now.