Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Mets Mess: New Owner Einhorn Has Work to Do

Article first published as Mets Mess: New Owner Einhorn Has Work to Do on Blogcritics.

The New York Mets have a potential new owner - of a minority stake in the team - and he has visited Citi Field to meet the Mets. Keeping in the tradition of the old team song ("Bring the kiddies; bring the wife; guaranteed to have the time of your life"), Einhorn brought his children to the game but perhaps wisely left the missus at home. The Mets lost that one against the Phillies, so it probably was for the best.

Einhorn is the latest entry into the Mets mess, and one has to wonder what he will be able to do to change the misfortunes of the organization. Yes, he is a wildly successful businessman, President of Greenlight Capital, which is sort of a complete opposite of the Bernie Madoff nightmare of an investment firm. Einhorn makes big money and is ready and willing to plunk down $200 million on the Mets, and there is a distinct possibility that he will be able to buy up more of the team, eventually making him the principal owner. So the stakes are high and, since he is such a smart fellow, we have to think that he has a lot more up his sleeve than he is showing in the cards right now.

Mets fans welcomed him at Citi Field on Wednesday night, and the cheers may be for something intangible as hope. Having gone to many games at old Shea over the years, I can tell you that Mets fans will cheer for the simplest possibilities of better things. They also look at what has happened in the past five years to this organization, how it has tanked so miserably since Carlos Beltran was a bystander on a third strike from Adam Wainwright in the NLCS in 2006. Ever since that bat never left Beltran's shoulder, the team has fallen and it can't get up, and all the things that have happened since have driven more and more nails into the team coffin.

Einhorn has a Mets pedigree, and fans always like that. Take a look at this picture of him as a kid. He is wearing a Mets cap and a jersey that he made himself with number 42 on it - the number of Dave Kingman, the big bopper at Shea at the time. It makes me like him right away because he was a fan when it was very hard to be a Mets fan, when "Sky King" (as Mets announcer Bob Murphy called Kingman) struck out and popped up towering fly balls a lot more than he hit homers. If he could be a fan in those dark times, he is probably the right man for the job here and now.

Make no mistake - these are extremely dark times for Mets fans. If you can imagine the team existing within the Star Wars saga, I would say right now we are stuck in the Empire Strikes Back with everything going against us. All the injured players are like Han Solo getting freeze-dried, and the fans are sort of like Princess Leia being a prisoner of Jabba the Hut. We have chains around our necks and things are looking mighty grim, so we have to hope that Einhorn is approved by Major League Baseball soon. This way we can speed things all the way up to Return of the Jedi, and he can be like Luke Skywalker and swoop in and save the day.

There are many things wrong with the Mets, and the truth is most fans know the team has been run poorly for years. Whatever happened between Fred Wilpon and Madoff notwithstanding, we need an infusion of new blood fast. Einhorn may not have much of a baseball background, but he certainly has a great track record in the business world. I hope that he gets involved, rolls up his sleeves, and starts taking the Mets machine apart. When he is all done - and if we are lucky - the Wilpons will let him buy them out and he can start building a winner again.

It seems to me it is time to shake off the ghost of Beltran watching that third strike. The way to do this is to have Einhorn pull a Moses. "Let my people go," he can say to Pharaoh Wilpon. He can let Beltran walk, perhaps Jose Reyes too, and take the team toward a new start with new blood. Hopefully Einhorn will recognize Mike Pelfrey is no ace and get into the market and bring someone here who is, and maybe after a few years the Mets can get back to where they were in the late 1980s, and the Yankees with Posada, Jeter, and Rivera gone will be the second bananas in town again.

We have a long way to go to accomplish that, David Einhorn, but you have to start somewhere, so please get in there and get to work. Mets fans need you to do something and quickly, and if you do then you will have more people in those seats and the chants of "Let’s go Mets" will resound through the new park the way they once did at old Shea. Please do it for the fans, for the city, and for yourself too. Come on, some kid is waiting to make his favorite player’s jersey just like you did. Don't keep him waiting!

Photo Credits- Daily News and SNY.com

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Remembering Memorial Days Past

Article first published as Remembering Memorial Days Past on Blogcritics.

Memorial Day has always been rather personal for me, and looking back at the day over the years reminds me of what it has meant to my family. Having had family members in the military since the Spanish-American War (1898), I was always around people who served our country in times of war. Their outlook was (and still is for those who survive) decidedly different than those who never wore a uniform or endured life under fire.

My father is a World War Two veteran, and when I was growing up it was not unusual for us to attend a variety of functions at the local Veterans of Foreign War Post (ours was located in Ridgewood, New York). At that time the Post was buzzing with life. There were members from World War I (like my grandfather), World War II, Korea (like my uncle), and even some "young" guys from Vietnam (like my cousin).

The women (my mother and aunts among them) populated the Ladies Auxiliary which not only advanced the mission of the Post, but sold Buddy Poppies to raise funds and also did good works in the community. They also handled the Voice of Democracy Contest that allowed young people to write about freedom in their country every year and receive awards for it.

Every Memorial Day was a big event in my family. My father somehow or other always got elected to walk the route as Uncle Sam. Someone once asked why he would want to hike in hot weather in that get-up, and Dad said that it was better than trudging across a war zone loaded down with equipment. That had to be an answer the "real" Uncle Sam would understand and appreciate.

The parade route was always a sea of American flags being waved up against the blue sky. When I was little I recall standing on the sidelines with my Mom, waiting to see my father marching in his costume. When I got older I stood on the sidelines with my grandfather, and my mother joined my Dad and marched as Lady Liberty. Every year their picture would appear in the local newspaper marching together side-by-side.

After the parade and laying of the ceremonial wreaths at the war monuments, the marchers and their families returned to the Post for a big bash. Pitchers of beer and soda lined the tables, hamburgers and hot dogs smothered in everything were consumed, and music blared all afternoon long. There were so many kids running around, my cousins and I always got a chance to have fun. The pool tables in the basement were a nice attraction too (when we got a little older).

In later years Mom could no longer participate in the parade (due to an increasingly bad case of rheumatoid arthritis), but we continued watching from the sidelines as Dad and my uncle marched. The numbers did thin out each May, with the World War I vets slowly disappearing, and my grandfather passed on when I was 18. That was the start of Memorial Day never being the same.

I remember him talking about life on a submarine during the war. They were forever searching for German U-boats. Of course, this was not a glamorous life by any means. Cramped, dark, and hot all the time, my grandfather still felt he was serving his country and did it and never complained later on. He always said the food was good, and he survived, and many guys were not able to say that.

Years later when I went to the parade with my own children, I was shocked by the depleted ranks. Some of World War II vets sat in cars, but the veteran marchers numbered less than one hundered (when there used to be over one thousand in my youth). Luckily, school bands and other organizations filled in the gaps and it was pleasant to watch, especially the many fire trucks covered with flowing flags and tributes to their own, soldiers of a different type who marched into buildings on 9/11 and never returned.

In the last five years Memorial Day has taken on an added meaning for me because my mother passed away the day after it. So each year I try to remember the good times we had on Memorial Day, and I recall my mother in her healthy days wearing that flowing gown dressed as Miss Liberty. As I picture her torch in hand a smile on her face, I know that is how I wish to remember her on this day.

Yes, Memorial Day has changed over the years, but its spirit remains the same: to honor those fallen in the service of their country. So I'll raise a flag and wave it high in the air this weekend, and in doing so I will be honoring not only all those lost in wars but the families who have lost loved ones.

And somewhere my Mom still carries the torch as she did in life, brightly burning a light through my darkness to illuminate what matters most of all. Thanks, Mom.

Photo Credit: VFW.org

Thursday, May 26, 2011

One of the Last New York City Phone Booths

Article first published as One of the Last New York City Phone Booths on Blogcritics.

It is hard enough to find a pay phone these days in New York City, much less an actual phone booth. When I was a kid these iconic glass and steel structures were all over the streets and a symbol of this town, much like their bigger British red cousins found on the streets of London.

The New York City booth came complete with a folding door and a convenient metal shelf where one could write notes, place a package, or just lean an elbow. These booths provided not only a place to make a private call in public, they also seemed to be something of a respite from the maddening crowd rushing by.

The advent of the cellular phone has seriously diminished the presence of pay phones on the streets of New York, but the phone booths started disappearing well before we all had our individual communication devices in our pockets. That is why I was happily surprised to come across an actual, old-fashioned phone booth the other day in the borough of Queens.

Located in the comfort station at Alley Pond Park, the booth is missing the door. The ceiling fan was not functional (all the booths had a fan that was operated by a small switch located above the phone box), but the phone actually worked - which is not the case for many of the remaining pay phones in New York City. I stood there staring at it for a few moments, not only appreciating its battered beauty, but also realizing that it is one of the last of its kind.

Later on when I showed the booth to my daughter, she wondered "What the heck is that?" I wanted to explain the history of the thing, but instead I joked and said, "It's where Superman used to change into his costume." She looked at me like I must be crazy, and if I didn't know better I'd say that she was right.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Former Mets Catcher Gary Carter Has Cancer Scare

Article first published as Former Mets Catcher Gary Carter Has Cancer Scare on Blogcritics.

It was reported this weekend that former New York Mets catcher Gary "Kid" Carter has been diagnosed with four small brain tumors. Carter released a statement in which he bravely discussed the situation and asked for respect for his family as he waited to learn more about how he will handle the situation.

This is sad news indeed for Mets fans - and all baseball fans - for Carter surely epitomized the type of play we would want all players to embrace in sports. He was always a very positive influence in the clubhouse during his five years with the Mets (and his overall 19 year career), and his effervescent smile and "we can win" attitude was certainly an important part of Carter's appeal.

As one of the central figures of the 1986 Championship Mets, Carter loomed as a strong and stable personality. In a turbulent clubhouse with many larger than life players, Carter's steady nature was needed and the other players knew that. He hit 24 homers, drove in 105 runs, but it was his handling of the pitching staff (and sometimes other personal clubhouse matters) that made him a leader on that team.

People may remember some big moments from the 1986 Series, and one image usually stands out (the ball that went through Boston Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner's wickets). Still, it was Carter who knocked in 11 runs in that seven game series and provided a key hit against Boston's closer Calvin Schiraldi when the game was down to the final strike. No Carter hit - no championship. It's that simple.

Carter was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003, and he has always been respected by Mets fans (and other fans of the game too) for his "Kid" persona. He has seemed eternally youthful in his attitude about the game and loved playing it in a way just like his nickname suggests. Major League Baseball is a man's game, but Carter always made it look like he was having fun. Maybe that's his greatest legacy of all.

So while we wait and hope to hear good news about this baseball legend's condition, let's all remember what kind of player Carter was: he never gave up, even down to the last strike in the World Series. That should tell us something about how the "Kid" will handle what lies ahead.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Friday, May 20, 2011

Another Subway Series - Mets Verses Yankees Not the Same Anymore

Article first published as Another Subway Series - Mets Verses Yankees Not the Same Anymore on Blogcritics.

Think of this unforgettable memory: Mike Piazza at the plate against Roger Clemens. Piazza's bat shatters, and Clemens throws a fragment of the bat toward Piazza. All hell was ready to break loose. If Bartolo Colon shattered David Wright's bat today, there would probably be no emotion let alone the possibility of a fight, and that's the problem with this whole Subway Series thing: the fire is gone.

Why? Well, the old rivalry is about as dead as Old Marley in A Christmas Carol - dead as a door nail! What has happened to the emotional and confrontational times of old? Why doesn't the Subway Series create the near hysteria it used to here in New York?

For one thing, the old guard is gone at the Mets and is severely depleted on the Yankees. Piazza, Franco, Leiter, and company are happily retired and watching games from home. The Yanks have some of the old guys - Jeter, Posada, and Rivera (with emphasis on old) - still on board, but it's just not the same. No one can compare these players to their former selves; the caliber of their play has greatly diminished.

The second thing is that these games have lost any novelty that they once had. When the Mets and Yankees first met in these interleague games, there was an excitement generated by the prospect of the cross river rivals playing games that mattered (as opposed to the old Mayor's Trophy Game that was merely an exhibition). Now, the fans on both sides of town are a bit removed from the whole thing. To put it in the words of my neighbor's ten-year old son: "It just ain't fun anymore."

Finally, who is excited about a Subway Series these days? Apparently not ESPN. The network has rejected showing the Sunday game this weekend and the one the following month at Citi Field. I think that more than anything shows how far the star of the Subway Series has fallen from the firmament.

Here in New York City, instead of inspiring yelling in the stadium and the streets, the prospect of the games inspires mostly yawning.  It is merely a distraction. The games count in the standings, but they are not as critical as say a game between Boston and the Yanks or Philadelphia and the Mets. These days those are the games that give fans the most bang for their buck.

Years ago, I was as excited as anyone about the Subway Series. I went to a few of the games at old Shea, and the place was packed and the crowd was shaking the rafters. I don't know if that will happen this year. Most of the Mets main guys are on the disabled list: Wright, Santana, Davis, Pagan, and the list goes on and on. The Yankees have stars who have lost their luster. Posada is hitting a buck something, Jeter and A-Rod are struggling, and even the most sacred cow - Mariano Rivera - is starting to look all too human.

I'll probably wear my Mets shirt and watch the games on TV, but I'm not saying I won't be tempted to change the channel a few times. Years ago I would never have done that, but now I can because what used to be at stake - who has bragging rights - doesn't seem to matter much anymore.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Sports Legend Lost - Cartoonist Bill Gallo Passes Away at 88

Growing up in New York City, it was hard to be a sports fan and not be influenced by the work of NY Daily News sports cartoonist Bill Gallo. His work had a way of touching the hearts and minds of sports fans. This combination of visceral imagery and timely topics were a treat for sports fans on a daily basis, and Gallo also gave credit to them to connect with his subjects on an emotional and intellectual level. Of course, Gallo possessed great humor, and that is no doubt the aspect of his work that will be remembered as fondly as the man himself.

Bill had the talent for capturing the essence of a great sports moment. We always hear that pictures say one thousand words; if that is the case, Gallo's drawings spoke ten times that. He could take something so astounding - like Joe Frazier beating Muhammad Ali - and sum it up with an amazing image, in this case of the constantly boasting Ali with his mouth zippered shut. This was the kind of work he did - connecting with what the sports fan was feeling and going beyond for a catharsis as well.

Over the years there were so many great images, but as a Mets fan I am very partial to Basement Bertha. Though Gallo covered all sports teams for the paper with his drawings, the ones of the slightly strange, overweight, and unattractive Bertha - as representative of all the suffering Mets fans - struck a chord with the public. With Bertha we Mets fans suffered, but we never suffered alone.

There are so many amazing Gallo cartoons, but he was also known for writing his column. I would always look forward to read what he had to say about sports legends, and his tenure at the News enabled him to encounter many of the greats. It goes without saying that Gallo was universally loved by all, even those who were depicted in his drawings in sometimes less than flattering ways. George Steinbrenner - drawn as the grunting, angry, irascible General von Steingrabber - got the joke and was honored to be in those cartoons.

Bill Gallo also wrote beautifully about his experiences during World War II. He sometimes included images of a GI in his cartoons, and my Dad (as a WWII vet) always felt an affinity for Gallo, thinking that he displayed the same pluck and heroism in the newspaper each day as he had done on the battlefield in Iwo Jima.

When a great sports broadcaster - like Howard Cosell - passes away, it is usually said that he was "silenced" in death. In this case we can say that a great sports cartoonist's hand has been stopped, and the emptiness of those pages in the NY Daily News, ones that will never be graced with another Gallo masterpiece, will speak louder than words.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A World War II Vet's Take on What Happened to Osama Bin Laden

Article first published as A World War II Vet's Take on What Happened to Osama Bin Laden on Blogcritics.

My father is a World War Two veteran. He is in a wheelchair now, courtesy of a stroke and nothing to do with the war. He is very sharp and watches the news, Dancing with the Stars, and even iCarly (which pleases my daughter very much). Being an astute observer of things comes naturally to him, so of course he would have something to say about the death of Osama Bin Laden. As always, he says what he thinks and it makes a great deal of sense to me.

During the war Dad disarmed bombs. It was not a job most people wanted to do. Not only did he want to do it, but he was damned good at it. His success rate was astounding, but he had a few "accidents" along the way (causing him to lose the hearing in one ear in the worst miscue). I couldn't get him to watch Hurt Locker, and maybe it's better that way. It might have been too close to home for him.

Anyway, he says that the guys (his buddies during the war) all talked about getting Hitler. I guess it makes sense that the top bad guy is the one with the target on his nose. Dad (and probably every other GI) dreamt of cornering the mustachioed tyrant in a room with a .45, but instead of blowing him away, my father said he would have tied him up. What would be better than dragging his butt through the streets of New York to jail? Probably not an actually possible scenario, but a pretty cool daydream anyway.

So this Bin Laden thing got Dad wondering. Why did they have to blow the guy away? Maybe there is more to the story. Maybe we will never know. I kind of liked Dad's daydream and would apply it here; nothing would have made me happier than to see Bin Laden dragged to Ground Zero and put in a glass cage. He could have stood trial in New York (we New Yorkers would make sure he got as fair a shake as possible, right?).

My daughter even had a better idea. Why not lock him in a room and make him watch episodes of Barney all day: like twenty-three hours a day of "I love you; you love me." Perhaps the off hour he could watch "Elmo's World" from Sesame Street - all day everyday - for the rest of his life. Never anything else, except maybe once as a special treat, the warden could pump in a recording of Kate Smith singing "God Bless America" for a twenty-four hour period. Forget water boarding; this would have been ideal.

Alas, we will never know. I have heard Hitler liked watching King Kong and identified with the big ape. Similarly, I am sure that Bin Laden could have eventually seen himself as a purple dinosaur. He would want to give everyone hugs and invite them over to his house. Unfortunately, there would be no visitors to his cell, but someone could have given him a Baby Bop doll to make his days complete.

We'll never know what could have been, but now "he sleeps with the fishes" like right out of a good old American movie. I just hope he's not disappointed when he gets to the other side, sees the 72 virgins, and finds out there is no Viagra over there. I guess that's what hell is all about anyway.

Photo Credits:
Hitler - topnews.in
Barney - pbskids.org

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day Number Five Without Mom - It Never Gets Easier

Article first published as Mother's Day Number Five Without Mom - It Never Gets Easier on Blogcritics.

I've heard it said that time heals all wounds, and I am willing to believe in that, but it is not working for me at this point. This is my fifth Mother's Day without my Mom, and it doesn't feel any different than it did the first time I had to live through this day without her; in fact, it may be getting even harder for me.

Even though Mom has been gone all this time, she is still a presence in my life. Not a day goes by that I don't think of her, miss her, and wish she were with me. In the past I took for granted being able to pick up the phone and call her from work. Now I still get the urge sometime to do it. When my two-year old son puts words together in a sentence, I want to dial her number and tell her, "He just said 'I don't want to sleep.'" I miss being able to do that.

I do take comfort in Mom's presence though, and I believe she is with me all the time. I think she is watching my kids as they do their little amazing things, and I feel she is with me when I am going through the rough days as well as the good ones. Knowing she is there is comforting, but I really would rather be able to throw my arms around her and kiss her.

As I do every year, I brought flowers to her grave. Standing there and staring at the tombstone, I am stronger now than I used to be. In the beginning I couldn't stop crying and had a hard time saying a prayer. Now, I still get misty, but I am stronger. That doesn't mean it is any easier because it's not. I feel like I need her now more than ever in my life.

I still have my Dad and he takes comfort in knowing I visit Mom's grave, but the truth is I know she is not there. She is with me here as I write this, leaning over my shoulder no doubt to see if I am spelling any words wrong. I know she is watching my kids rolling around the floor playing, and I think that she will be with me as I honor my wife on Mother's Day the same way Dad always honored her. I will wish I was hearing her say, "That's my boy," but I'll close my eyes and know her evanescent hand is on my shoulder on this day and all the days of my life.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Mets Play the Giants and Dodgers at Home: One Big Dysfunctional Family

Article first published as Mets Play the Giants and Dodgers at Home: Just One Big Dysfunctional Family on Blogcritics.

This week the New York Mets lost two out of three games to the San Francisco Giants at Citi Field. Tonight they start a three game series at home against the Los Angeles Dodgers. These games are sure to stir passions, bring back memories, and are clearly proof that these three teams form a National League baseball family that rivals the feuding Hatfields and McCoys back in the days of old.

Some Mets fans were up in arms because, during Wednesday night's loss to the Giants, there seemed to be more Giants fans in the stadium than the home crowd. Decked out in Giants gear, these fans were boisterous and certainly annoyed the Mets faithful.

Now tonight the Dodgers begin a three game series at Citi Field. There has to be even more tension in this case. Anyone who has visited Citi Field knows that the Jackie Robinson Rotunda (named in honor of the legendary Brooklyn Dodger) is the gateway to the stadium. The Mets celebrate their Dodger roots in this magnificent hall, but the conflicting feelings abound for former Brooklyn Dodgers fans who still believe in the Bums that once occupied Brooklyn’s Ebbetts Field.

In fact, Citi Field itself is an homage to Brooklyn baseball, with the exterior design inspired by the old Ebbetts Field architecture. Clearly the Mets were tipping their caps to the senior members of the New York National League family here, but they also do that every game of the year - wearing Dodger blue and Giant orange on their uniforms.

I have heard old Dodgers fans say, "I'm a Mets fan except when the Dodgers are in town." Fifty-four years later they still have not given up the faith, hoping somehow or some way that their beloved team will find its way home again. Some Giants fans will say similar things. Until that unlikely time occurs, when these teams play in Queens it brings back fond memories and causes some misty eyes still after all this time.

The young gun Mets have played forty-nine seasons now, so they are not exactly little anymore, still they are the junior members of the New York National League club, and it seems sometimes that they are always fighting ghosts, and that is usually a no-win situation to be sure.

Tonight the Dodgers take their place in the visitor's dugout, but one thing could help those old Dodger fans root for the Mets this time: former Yankee Don Mattingly is now the team's skipper. Unlike Joe Torre, who had a Mets pedigree, Mattingly can only be associated with the Yanks. If that is not enough to push an old Dodgers fan to root against his team for the Mets, I don't know what will work.

The Mets, Giants, and Dodgers and their fans are all part of a big dysfunctional baseball family. So there may be bickering, but in the end they will settle down, the players will run onto the field, and the fans will pass the Crackerjacks. In between a few elbows and jabs, they will get to what is most important: playing baseball and knowing that they are all part of the same bloodline. As my grandpa used to say, “Mets orange and blue blood is thicker than Yankee blueblood any day.”

Let’s go Mets!

Photo Credits:

Citi Field - NY Daily News
Ebbets Field - nyc.gov

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Osama Bin Laden Killed in "Real Time" - The Jack Bauer Way

Article first published as Osama Bin Laden Killed in "Real Time" - The Jack Bauer Way on Blogcritics.

In reality we get Navy SEALs going in and doing a job in "real time" as the President and his staff watched half a world away. In the fiction world we used to get Jack Bauer of 24 doing the same kind of thing. It used to take Jack about twenty-four hours of real time to get the job done; these guys did it all in forty minutes. Score one for reality TV of the most surreal kind.

The pundits are all having a great time with this story. They have forgotten William and Kate's wedding faster than you can say "Gary Condit after 9-11." Of course, it is a fantastic story about a nearly perfectly executed mission into enemy territory to get the guy known for orchestrating some high profile crimes against the United States at home and abroad. Even screenwriters usually don't make it this smooth, so you know that there will be a film someday depicting this action that is probably the best of its kind since the Israeli raid on Entebbe.

Our President was also reminding me of a character in 24: President David Palmer. The coincidences are very striking as we have a composed, firm, and convincing Commander-in-Chief making a very tough call, and doing it on his own without any help from "coalition" buddies. That is what made the fictive Palmer seem like Presidential timber, and isn't it comforting to know that the real guy in the White House can do it even better than on TV.

Sometimes life imitates art. In this case we have the Navy SEALs and the President of the United States doing it better than their TV counterparts. Still, I couldn't help thinking that the guys who did this had to have a little Jack Bauer in them, just as Mr. Obama had a little David Palmer in him. The plan and execution of it seemed like something from a script, but in reality it played out better than anyone could imagine and they did it in "real time" too.