Buying the next World Series?

Bad for baseball?

Carlos Correa
Carlos Correa per MLB.com

Another question from Kelly:

As I write this, the owner of the New York Mets has spent WILDLY in an attempt to pretty much buy [the] next World Series. Just ONE contract he handed out this year is larger than the entire payroll of the Pittsburgh Pirates–cumulatively, since 2010. Is this bad for baseball? How does baseball fix this, if it even wants to?

First, I know that you know you can’t guarantee a World Series.  You can secure the best players based on previous performance, but the players could get injured. Indeed, the Mets were getting balky about Carlos Correa’s ankle, the same issue that kept the San Francisco Giants from signing him, and as you know, he ended up back in Minnesota.

Players also have off-years. Rookies on other teams in their division could be outstanding.

Still, your broader point is well-taken. The Pirates, since 2010, had a few decent years (2013-2015) but lost 101 and 100 games the past two seasons. This is a terrible outcome for a team who played in the first World Series in 1903 and existed for two decades before that.

Is this bad for baseball? I think so. No matter how much Major League Baseball rejiggers (dilutes) the playoffs, those teams with nothing to play for by Labor Day depress the whole MLB product.

One fix would be shared revenue of television revenues. This won’t happen because those large-market teams, such as the Mets, are advantaged by the imbalance.

An easier fix, at least logistically, would be a hard salary cap. That means a team can’t just pay a “luxury tax” and spend to their heart’s content. In the NFL, the salary cap is tied to league revenues; if the league does well, everyone benefits.

Minor leagues

MLB had ticked me off recently when they gutted their minor league affiliations. This  Mother Jones article at the end of 2020 describes it well. The minor leagues are inefficient. “There were more effective ways to, say, add velocity to a teenager’s fastball or improve a hitter’s launch angle than playing games—this kind of work could be done at closed-door facilities and any time of year.”

But I’d argue it’s the thing that makes people develop an affinity for the major league team that farm system teams develop.  I grew up watching the Triplets in the Triple Cities of upstate New York in the 1960s. Later, Al Downing played for the New York Yankees.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Albany-Colonie Yankees had players such as Andy Pettite, Jorge Posada, and future Hall of Famers Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera.

From MJ:

“It should go without saying that one of the teams driving this movement—though by no means the only one—was the Houston Astros:

[T]he Houston Astros, a model of modern player development, bucked that trend a few years ago. After the 2017 season, they reduced their affiliate count from nine to seven clubs. The Astros believed they could become a more efficient producer of talent with fewer farm clubs.

One of those teams that lost its affiliation with the Astros was the Tri-City Valley Cats, who play in the Albany-Schenectady-Troy metro. The Astros won the 2017 World Series with five former Valley Cats, which I wrote about here; we won’t get into the subsequent signal-stealing scandal.

Compare and contrast

It occurred to me that the drafts of college football players to the NFL and college basketball players to the NBA can create players with instant impact on a team at the pro level. College baseball, not really.

That player coming up from the minors to play in The Show is exciting for fans who saw them when. I think MLB should spend MORE money on Minor League Baseball, not less. But I don’t see MLB going in this direction.

One last question from Kelly:

And finally, something mundane: Do you have bird feeders? If so, how many and what kinds?

Sort of. My daughter made one from a plastic, half-gallon milk carton. She made the openings and painted the rest. It was hanging in a tree for a time, but it came down. We need to reconnect it and put the feed in again.

The New York Mets are best worst

From first to third

New York Mets

Kelly reviewed the book So Many Ways To Lose: The Amazin’ True Story of the New York Mets, the Best Worst Team In Sports, by Devin Gordon. You can read the review about what the heck that title means. But the 2021 season pretty much encapsulates this.

From Baseball-Reference.com: The Mets were in first place in the National League East for 91 days, if one counts only the days a team played and was in first at the end of the day, or 114 days if one counts all days of the season including off days. They topped their division as late as Friday, August 13. They ended up 77-85-0, 3rd place in NL East. It was in large part because of a season-ending injury to pitcher Jacob deGrom on July 18, he with an astonishing 1.08 ERA.

There’s a friend of my sister’s named MJ, who swears I turned her on to the Mets in the mid-1960s, after their truly awful early seasons, but before they won the Series in ’69. Curious, because I had thought of myself as a Yankees fan in those days.

There was a farm team in Binghamton (actually Johnson City) that was usually a Yankees farm team. I saw Al Downing, who as an LA Dodger gave up home run 715, I saw play there. The stadium was razed in the late 1960s to build a new Route 17 (now I-86).

1986

By happenstance, I caught the ESPN Films’ 30 for 30 Documentary “Once Upon a Time in Queens”. It chronicled the 1986 Mets season. But it also discussed the 1984 and 1985 seasons, and how they built to their improbable World Series victory. It includes many interviews, including Keith Hernandez, Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Mookie Wilson, Lenny Dykstra, and Kevin Mitchell.

Executive Producer Jimmy Kimmel is correct. “The characters and events captured in this documentary are so outlandish it is hard to believe this documentary isn’t a work of 80’s-era fiction. Whether you are a New Yorker, a Mets fan or even a fan of baseball makes no difference. This is the definitive, must-see story of a team and a time whose antics and even existence now seem unimaginable.”

Back in 2012, I documented seeing the ’86 Game Six on TV, with my friend Cee dressed as Gary Carter.

NYCNY

When the Yankees and the Mets played in the 2000 Subway Series, I was a bit torn. The Yankees had won in 1996, 1998, and 1999, so I was thinking the Amazins deserved a shot. It was not to be. On the other hand, I had all but forgotten that they lost to the Kansas City Royals in 2015.

There’s now a stadium in downtown Binghamton. The team that plays there is the Rumble Ponies, the Double-A farm team of the New York Mets. I’ve only been there once or twice, but maybe next year, something the MLB Mets are undoubtedly saying right now.

John Thompson, Tom Seaver

Mets and Hoyas

Tom SeaverI’ve been pondering something since the deaths of basketball Hall of Fame coach John Thompson and baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver. It is that being a sports fan was hugely significant to me for a chunk of my life. But it has waned in recent years.

I could tell you, without looking it up, who won the World Series every year in the 1960s. For the 2010s, I could recall only four. And two of them, the 2017 Houston Astros and the 2018 Boston Red Sox were arguably tarnished.

Tom Terrific

After the decline of my New York Yankees after their 1964 Series loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, I started following their crosstown rivals, the Mets. But they were pretty terrible. They put this young pitcher, Tom Seaver, into the rotation in 1967, and he went 16-13, with a 2.76 ERA. Pretty good on a team that went 61-101. In 1968, the Mets were 73-89, their most wins ever. Seaver was 16-12 but lowered his ERA to 2.20.

By 1969, the leagues divided into East and West divisions. Shockingly, the Mets amazed sports fans with a 100-62 record. They swept the West’s Atlanta Braves in three games. They were widely assumed to be the underdogs to the Baltimore Orioles with the Robinsons Franks and Brooks, among other stars. Yet the Mets won the World Series four games to one. Tom Seaver in 1969 went 25-7, with a 2.21 ERA.

A letter writer in the Boston Globe remembers this. “That year, Seaver had made a statement that ‘if the Mets can win the World Series, then we can get out of Vietnam,’ an extraordinary act in those days for a professional athlete.”

I followed Seaver through his career with the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox. I forgot he pitched for the Red Sox in 1986, but he was injured during the 1986 Series, so didn’t play against the winners, NYM. It was just as well for the legacy of the greatest Met. He died in late August in his sleep of complications of Lewy body dementia and Covid-19.

Big John

John ThompsonFor a couple years in the mid-1960s, John Thompson was a backup center for Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics. It was probably before I saw the Celtics in an exhibition game at the IBM Country Club in Endicott, NY. The NBA’s Celtics and the New York Knicks were my teams then.

I didn’t become a follower of the men’s college game until the late 1970s. I tended to root for the teams in the Big East, which was formed in 1979 and featured Syracuse, the premiere team in upstate New York. But I’d root for any BE team, including Georgetown, against non-conference opponents.

John Thompson inherited a Georgetown Hoyas team which had been 3–23 the year before. He led them to a .500 record in season two. “By his third season in 1974–75, Georgetown qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1943.”

So when North Carolina beat Georgetown in the March Madness finals in 1982, I was disappointed. And when the Hoyas beat Houston in 1984, making John Thompson the first black coach to win the Final Four, I was quite thrilled. And when underdog Villanova, from the Big East, beat Georgetown in the championship game in 1985, it was actually OK. “Over 27 years, Thompson’s Hoyas went 596–239 (.714), running off a streak of 24 postseason appearances – 20 in the NCAA tournament and 4 in the NIT.”

Thompson’s coaching legacy includes the recruitment and development of four players in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame: Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo, and Allen Iverson.” Iverson thanked Thompson for “saving my life” in an Instagram post.

Sean Gregory wrote in an appreciation for Time, “No coach of his generation, in any sport, was more influential.” John Thompson died in late August.

Baseball by the (uniform) numbers

Only three players each have worn numbers 78, 79, 81, 91 and 94.

Ed GlynnThis is a picture of Ed Glynn. You probably never heard of him, and I barely remember him myself. He was a journeyman pitcher, for the New York Mets in 1979-1980, and other teams over a ten-year career.

I mention him only because my friend Walter is Glynn’s cousin, and he mentioned that the current #48 for the Mets is the great young pitcher Jacob deGrom. If one goes to the page about the Mets at baseball-reference.com, one finds all sorts of information about the team’s history, including the fact that they’ve retired the number of only one Mets player in its history, Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver, #41.

Further into the minutia hole, one can discover the name of every single player who ever donned a Mets uniform. I’m using the Mets as an example here, but this is true of every team in Major League Baseball, past, and present, though some of those very early teams didn’t use numbered uniforms.

And, one can find out how many people in all of MLB have worn a particular uniform number. 862 players have worn #22 over the years, and 839 have had #27. Glynn and deGrom are two of 506 players to wear #48.

The higher numbers are not as well regarded. Only three players each have worn numbers 78, 79, 81, 91, and 94. Two each have donned 83, 84, 85, and 96. There has only been one person to have worn, as a regular player, not just spring training, the numbers 80, 82, 87, 95, 97, and 98. And NO one has had 86, 89, 90, 92, or 93.

This means that, if you’re going to be a Major League Baseball player, pick a high uniform number. You’ll have a better chance at being the best #89 ever!
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For the First Time in History, the World Series Is Between 2 Teams That Were Never Segregated.

Twenty-Five Fun Facts About the 2015 Mets.

Halloween 1986: Gary Carter and a Greyhound Bus Strike

The only time I saw Gary Carter in person was the year he was inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame, in 2003. It wasn’t at the induction ceremony, but in Cooperstown that same weekend.

For most of the 1980s, I would travel on a bus from Albany, NY, to my hometown of Binghamton, NY to attend an annual Halloween party, held by a high school friend of mine and her then-husband. The only way to get there was by Greyhound bus, and there must have been some sort of labor dispute in 1986 because they had replacement drivers. I remember the driver on the return trip to Albany get off the wrong Oneonta exit, riding through parts of the city not usually traversed on that route, and ending up in parts of the SUNY Cobleskill campus I had never seen before; two or three passengers, including myself, ended up being the navigators during a torrential downpour.

As for the Saturday night party itself, it happened to coincide with Game 6 of the World Series between the New York Mets and the Boston Red Sox. Boston was up 3 games to 2. Usually, we didn’t watch the Series at this party, but the hostess was a big Mets fan. In fact, she was wearing an excellent replica of the uniform of the Mets’ All-Star catcher, Gary Carter, her favorite player, who was the hero of Game 4; her coif even replicated the curls in his hair.

The room went wild after the Mets’ unexpected Game 6 win, due in no small part because of Carter’s 10th inning, two-out hit. There had already been quite a bit of drinking going on and there was…more afterward.

Fortunately, I didn’t miss the final game of the Series, as I had feared. The same blinding rainstorm that made my return trip to Albany on Sunday so eventful also rained out the game at New York’s Shea Stadium, so I did get to see the Mets’ victory in the decisive Game 7 on Monday when I got back to Albany. Incidentally, “NBC’s broadcast of Game 7 (which went up against a Monday Night Football game between the Washington Redskins and New York Giants on ABC) garnered a Nielsen rating of 38.9 and a 55 share, making it the highest-rated single World Series game to date.”

The only time I saw Gary Carter in person was the year he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, in 2003. It wasn’t at the induction ceremony but in Cooperstown that same weekend. He seemed like a great guy who had what Yahoo! sports called an “unapologetic joy” for the game. I was sorry to hear that he died this week of a malignant brain tumor, diagnosed in May 2011.
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Gary Carter dead at 57, and on the passing of youth.

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