Friday, September 30, 2011

Mets Mess: Reyes Wins Batting Title As Another Disappointing Season Ends

This article first appeared on Blogcritics.

No New York Mets player ever won a batting title before. No Mets pitcher has ever thrown a no-hitter. No Mets player has ever been the league's Most Valuable Player. Okay, you get the idea. In a less than thrilling season, the notion that one of our guys would capture the batting crown was something to keep fans going. It even brought fans to Citi Field on the last day of the season.

They wanted to see Jose Reyes compete against Milwaukee's Ryan Braun for the batting title. Some people brought their kids because they wanted them to remember the moment. Others, thinking this could be Reyes' last game as a Met, wanted to be there to appreciate his talents for one last time. All that mattered little when Reyes led off the bottom of the first inning, bunted for a base hit, and then was pulled for a pinch runner.

Did Reyes pull his hamstring? Did something happen to him? The crowd didn't wait to find out and started booing. We found out later that Reyes pulled himself from the game, with the hit guaranteeing him a .337 average and making it almost impossible for Braun to catch him unless Braun went 3 for 4 that evening. Braun actually went 0-4, so it now this stands out as poor sportsmanship for Reyes to have backed into the title that way.

Fans booed Reyes during what is possibly his last game at Citi Field. Long-time Mets fans were annoyed with Reyes' selfish attitude, putting his personal record ahead of the good of the team. Although manager Terry Collins supported Reyes and the decision, it is clear that such a move is at best tacky and at worst emblematic of Reyes' disrespect for Mets fans and the organization that he has called home for the last nine years.

After the game when asked about the unhappy fans, Reyes said, "I don't care what people think. A lot of people told me, 'Don't play today.'"

Okay, so Jose doesn't care what the fans think. That will go over in New York as well as instant pizza and frozen bagels. We Mets fans are passionate about our team and our city. We support our players and respect them, but we want the same from them. It has always seemed the Reyes is a total player. His uniform is always dirty after a game. He throws himself completely into a game, and we have come to appreciate that dedication, so I guess when we saw this completely unexpected cop-out we were more hurt than angry, although many expressed themselves vehemently when they booed.

Some have argued that the 77-85 Mets had nothing on the line in this game. They were just playing out the schedule, and that made it okay for Reyes to take an early shower. Things would be different if this were a game deciding a playoff spot. This would matter more if this game mattered more.

I am sorry, but every game (every inning) counts. It is not about the contest having meaning because the game is more important than anything else. You know the old saying, "It's not if you win or lose but how you play the game." Well, that is applicable here. Jose made a tremendous mistake and manager Terry Collins should have told him "No!" He should have said, "The hell with the batting title. Get out there and play your nine innings and give these fans what they paid for."

Unfortunately, this was not to be. Once again, Mets fans, stung by the Bernie Madoff scandal and injuries galore, had to endure yet another slap to the face. In the old days that might have sparked a duel, but the way we Mets fans are feeling now, we are better off just turning the other cheek and walking away.

Jose Reyes won a batting title; so what? Truthfully, I'd rather he hit .235 and see the Mets were going into the Wild Card series. The batting title is little comfort for a horrible year that has followed other horrible ones. Reyes will no doubt take the money and run - all the way to another team as far as he can go.
So Mets fans, we can once again say, "Wait until next year." It seems that is what we always say. Now we can languish in our winter of discontent, watching other teams make bold moves, and we can be secure in the notion that the Mets are going to cut payroll. GM Sandy Alderson is giving Mets fans about as much hope as those people who jumped off the Titanic without life vests. Wait until next year? What's the point when all we can hope for is another lost season?

Though my blood still runs orange and blue, I am exhausted after this season. I feel depleted; I feel like all Mets fans are the equivalent of the Biblical Job. How much more can we take until we break?

Photo Credits - Daily News

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The House That Truth Built: Girardi Reveals Yanks Need Home-field Advantage in Playoffs

This article first appeared in Blogcritics.

The words said by New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi seemed as if they came in a private conversation; however, they were uttered during a post-game interview. As a New York Mets fan listening to the radio, I immediately noticed that this revealed truth is salient and yet seems to be lost on most Yankees fans, and thinking about it I see this as either being the Yankees' greatest strength or ending up to be their Achilles' heel.

What did Girardi say? He spoke candidly about what the team needed to do to have success in the post-season. "We still need to win some games because we want to have home-field advantage." After a follow-up question, Girardi reiterated the obvious: "It's (home-field advantage) real important. I really believe that we were built around this ballpark."

"Aha!" I thought, how true this is because the Yankees have always been built around that ballpark. When the first Yankee Stadium opened with Babe Ruth as the star, a convenient right field "porch" made it possible for the Sultan of Swat to bang lots of homers. Of course, we can argue that Ruth could hit homers in any park, but playing half of his games in Yankee Stadium certainly didn't hurt him. This is also true for Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Reggie Jackson, and current players like Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira.

Girardi's revelation may not be a surprise to many, but I think it is crucial to understanding the Yankees' success story. When he says that the team is "built around this ballpark" we can understand that he means that Granderson and Teixeira need the dimensions (314 feet down the right field line and 318 feet down the left field line), as do the other players, to succeed. We can only guess about how many championships might have never been if the Yankees played in a different stadium.

Take my suffering New York Mets and their home ballpark. Citi Field is like the Grand Canyon of baseball parks compared to the home run friendly Yankee Stadium. How many homers are lost in the field that Citi helped build will never be known, but just take a look at David Wright, Carlos Beltran, Jason Bay, and others whose power has diminished while playing there.

Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks coined the phrase "the friendly confines" when referring to Wrigley Field. We can well understand his liking the park where he had so much success (512 career home runs), but imagine someone like Willie Mays who went from the Polo Grounds in New York to a place like Candlestick Park in San Francisco, where he lost so many homers in the wind. How many homers would Mays have hit if he had played in a more homer friendly arena? In my humble opinion he would have had more than Hank Aaron, who for many years played in a very homer-friendly Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta.

So Joe Girardi revealed a truth which may or may not be ugly, depending on your point of view. Yankees fans will no doubt scoff at the notion that their team's history of success is based on the dimensions of Yankee Stadium, but most everyone else knows the truth: the House that Ruth Built was designed to have Ruth and other Yankees players hit lots of homers.

Certainly, opposing players might be seen to have the same advantage, but I beg to differ. I think that many great opposing players came into Yankee Stadium salivating for the chance to chip the ball into the short right field porch, but the execution of that is not so easy as it is for those Yanks who play eighty-one games a year there. Trying to pull the ball many hitters came up short, just as many guys who tried to poke one over the Green Monster in Boston's Fenway Park found out.

By the way, Girardi got his wish. By sweeping the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and with the Boston Red Sox losing to the lowly Baltimore Orioles, the Yankees have clinched the division. It seems Girardi is going to get what he wants: to have the home-field advantage during the playoffs. Now we have to see if that will be a deciding factor in the Yankees going all the way. Girardi got what he wanted; for the rest of us, it seems that is the reason why they are known as those Damn Yankees!

Photo Credits: NY Daily News

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Fashion Dilemma: Is White the New Black?

This article first appeared in Blogcritics.

Let me qualify things right away here: I know as much about fashion as I know about quantum physics - virtually nothing. Still, I do think of myself as a pretty good observer of things. As a writer, I always find myself not just seeing things but actually studying them. Over the years I have watched and listened to people and stored their voices, idiosyncrasies, and faces in my mental toolbox. This is just something I always do.

So now I feel like I have been observing a trend (at least here in New York) that I find a bit surprising and slightly unsettling: white seems to be the new black. What I mean by that is that white seems to have become the color (or is that the un-color?) of cool. People are wearing all sorts of white vests, shorts, pants, skirts, shoes, and hats (even in these days after Labor Day). These people are both young and old and of all different backgrounds, so there is no question that it seems to be a trend, and they are looking cool wearing white despite the fact that the football season has already started.

My perception of white probably stems from my old uncle who in the summer months always wore a white ship captain's hat, a white belt, and white shoes. I thought of him as Captain Ahab minus the big whale, and although he thought he looked great he looked kind of strange to me. The funny thing was lots of other older Italian guys wore the same thing during the summer. It looked like they were all going yachting instead of down to the park to play bocce in the heat.

In my youth I never wore white. Yes, I heard of the rule that white should only be worn between Memorial Day and Labor Day, but I much preferred wearing black like Johnny Cash or Roy Orbison or the bad guys in cowboy movies. Black was cool. Extremely cool, even when it was hot outside. I liked going out in a black shirt, black pants, and black shoes. It felt good and seemed right to me. I still like black now and wear other darker colors too, but white just doesn't seem right, at least for me.

During Fashion Week here in New York, people were wearing white. This picture of the Kardashians at one of the runway events shows them clearly enjoying the color. Now I am wondering if I was wrong all along. Maybe white is the color to wear. P. Diddy even throws an annual "White Party" (guests may only wear white clothing), so that certainly makes it clear that white is the new cool color.

It's not even warm here in New York anymore, but I am seeing people wearing white. It is on people who look very fashionable and seem to know what they are wearing. They spice it up with flashes of color: the women with scarves, hats, belts, and shoes; the men with hats and socks, but it seems like white is all right for them and who am I to question that?

So is white the new black? Should I break my own tradition and venture out wearing white? I think I'm afraid that I might be mistaken for an ice cream man or the guy looking for escapees from the funny farm if I dare to wear all white.

Autumn officially comes into town this week, and I want to see if the white trend continues. Either way I am not going to start wearing white until I get older and can wear the belt, the shoes, and the captain's hat. Then I can go to the local park and play bocce with the other old guys like me. Until then I can admire those wearing white from a distance. They are the ones who embrace an eternal summer, and maybe that is a good thing for the body and the mind.

Besides, if white is not the new black then maybe it is just the new white, and that seems to make it okay for anytime of the year, so those of you out there wearing white can keep at it right through Christmas and into the new year. Enjoy!

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years After 9-11-01: Still A Day That Will Live in Infamy

Article first published as Ten Years After 9-11-01: Still A Day That Will Live in Infamy on Blogcritics.

I walk into Windows on the World; my eyes are drawn to the skyline. The sun is brilliant this day; everything inside the restaurant is glowing preternaturally. I don't detect the odor of the fine breakfast food, but I see the waiters and they are gimping along with their trays. The people are all at the tables eating, but there seems to be nothing on their plates.

I sit at my table and lift my copy of the New York Times. A bus boy pours some water in my glass, but his hand is shaking and the ice and water run all over the table. I look up at him and he is like a holograph; I can see the skyline right through him.

I look at the newspaper and see the date: September 11, 2011. The headlines are illegible, as is the text of the stories. There are pictures on the front page that are all blurry. I look at my watch and note that it is 8:45. I think I have a meeting or something that I must get to; I start trying to signal the waiters, but they turn their backs on me and stare out the windows.

I open the paper to the next page and I can make out some of the letters. "Tenth Anniversary..." and the rest is a blur. I hear a familiar voice and look up. My grandfather is standing over the table with a cigar in his mouth. "Hey, Pop," I say, as if twenty seven years haven't passed since he died. "Want some breakfast?"

Pop shakes his head and points to the exit door. "You have to get out of here."

I fold the paper and look up again and he is gone, but at the same time the building starts rumbling like an earthquake is hitting the city. The table shakes, my glass topples over, and the floor beneath my feet is turning into gelatin. I look at the exit door and run as Pop suggested. I throw open the door and step out into the sunshine and the blue sky is all around me. I start falling and look back, but there is no building at all. I am falling toward the earth, and I see a crowd of people below me. I see them all standing there dressed in black, and I notice the footprints of the towers. I want to scream but I cannot, and I continue to fall towards the earth, but then, as is always the case with this dream, I wake up.

After all this time and space between then and now, I am still haunted, still hurting, and still looking for answers. People have moved ahead and on with their lives, and their ability to do so is admirable. Many people who lost loved ones have remarried, or gotten divorced, or moved away from New York City, and some have died. Out of necessity and despite things beyond their control, these people have dealt with 9-11, but many of us still have not found peace and perhaps never will.

I still mourn the loss in my family, of old friends, and the devastation of my city that I love. I cannot look at the skyline and not think about what happened. I see an airplane overhead (a sight that once used to make me think of travel to exotic places) and I get agitated and nervous. In the street I find myself looking up, watching the buildings and wondering and waiting if they too will fall. On the subway or bus every package or backpack seems sinister; the passengers could be terrorists. There is a feeling of unease, of things falling apart, and I have no sense of equilibrium or any hope that it will get better.

I hear the naysayers all the time. "You have to get over it," is frequently said. "There hasn't been an attack in ten years; what are you worried about?" This is another good one. "Snap out of it!" is yet another, said more vehemently than when Cher spoke that line in Moonstruck. Perhaps a smack on the face should follow those words. None of this matters though. If you are a New Yorker you have been scarred, and all the time in the world won't hide the evidence, but we can take great pains to cover up and conceal this from others, which only makes the hurting get more intense.

I have much for which to be thankful, and I never forget that, but 9-11 is omnipresent for me in this city. Maybe if I could pull myself away, perhaps live in Fiji or Bali or someplace like that, I would be able to move on. I do fear that out of sight will not be out of mind, and I could go to the ends of the earth, but I would still have my dreams and nightmares, and there would be no denying that it happened and changed my city and my life forever.

We mark the tenth anniversary collectively. There are ceremonies, prayer services, and gatherings to commemorate the day. All this is well and good, but it is also hard to ignore. The media pounds the message home day after day, so to escape the onslaught is nearly impossible. I believe it is good to do all those things because we never want to forget what happened, but it is also painful to remember for many of us. We are the ones caught in a constant struggle; we wish to honor the memories of those lost, but in doing so we lose a little piece of ourselves each time.

I want my children to remember the day and to understand what happened, so I try to confront it as best as I can. When my daughter asks, "Why did we lose Uncle Steve that day?" it is an incredibly more difficult question than "Where do babies come from?" or "Why is the sky blue?" I can talk to her about it, and in doing so it helps me cope, but it still doesn't stop the pain or the tears.

So this year is the same as last year but infinitely more difficult; ten years of my life and your life and everyone's lives have been spent in the shadow of 9-11. Some pretend it never happened, but then they could find themselves like I am in my dream: up in the air and ready for a big fall. In this case I know I am like Humpty Dumpty; nothing can put me back together again and make me the same person I was on September 10, 2001. I have to live with that, accept that, and try to move on.

September 11 will always mean something to people. To those who wanted to hurt us, it is a holiday. To New Yorkers it is a day of infamy, right up there with December 7, 1941 or November 22, 1963. We who lived through that day know where we were when we heard about it; we will never forget how that day started and how it ended.

As the years go by there will be less people who can say they lived through 9-11. It is our sacred duty to carry the torch, to tell young people about it, and make sure that no one ever forgets. There is a beautiful memorial that will open to the public in New York City, and that will always be a reminder, even after we are gone. Those of us who knew and loved those who died will one day die too, and the voices who tell the stories will change, but the stories will remain for all the generations to come.

Ten years have gone and many people will gather for the ceremony, and many more people will watch the proceedings on television, but the most important audience will be those lost. They are watching and listening, so we had better never falter and never stop marking the day, because if nothing else they have a right to know they are remembered now and until the end of time.

New York Teams Observe the Tenth Anniversary of 9-11

Article first published as New York Teams Observe the Tenth Anniversary of 9-11 on Blogcritics.

For those who may remember September 21, 2001, the first professional sports game after 9-11 took place at Shea Stadium between the New York Mets and the Atlanta Braves. Ten days after the attacks that brought down the Twin Towers, the city was looking for any reason to feel something good again. Mike Piazza stepped in and socked a a two-run homer against the Atlanta Braves. I'll never forget that homer, and Piazza still recalls the moment fondly as the roar of the crowd shook the old stadium. The Mets went on to beat the Braves in that game, and so New Yorkers had something to cheer about again.

All these years later the city still needs things to help it get through the tenth anniversary of the attacks. It is very comforting to see our sports heroes take the time to recognize the day in tangible ways. I remember seeing the Mets wearing those FDNY and NYPD caps ten years ago, and it still gives me chills. Now the New York Mets will hold a ceremony before their home game against the Cubs on September 11, and the New York Jets will also be observing the tenth anniversary at the Meadowlands.

In truth this is more than just the right thing to do, and both organizations seem honored to have the opportunity to be playing home games on September 11. Last week the New York Yankees also had a ceremony to commemorate the anniversary. It is notable that the teams have opened their arms to the city in an effort to assuage what are still significantly deep wounds even after all this time.

These "remembrance ceremonies" are substantial moments in sports history. Chilling as Lou Gehrig's farewell speech at Yankee Stadium, these events become part of our collective memories, and reflect sports at its very best.

The Mets and Jets will be honoring the first responders, those lost, the rescue workers, and their families. The Mets will specifically involve families from Tuesday's Children (who lost parents on 9-11). We will watch and feel the tugs on our hearts and the tears on our cheeks, all the while knowing that this is not only marking the importance of this day but the integral relationship of our sports teams with the city and the fans.

This will be a long and emotional day for most of us. By the time former American Idol star Pia Toscano sings "God Bless America" tonight at Citi Field, we are all going to be exhausted but exhilarated too. Hopefully the Mets and Jets will win these games, but that really doesn't matter as much as what is happening on the field before play begins.

This is an example of sports at its very best. It is also a reflection of our city, though bruised and battered as it has been, New York has risen from the ashes of 9-11. The world will be watching today, and we are ready to show our best at the World Trade Center site in the morning and in our ballparks tonight. This is what New York City is all about, and we can thank our teams for doing their part to make the Big Apple shine brightly on this day and all the rest of the days of this season and many seasons to come.

Photo Credit - AP

Friday, September 9, 2011

New Kids on the Mets Just Having Some Fun

Article first published as New Kids on the Mets Just Having Some Fun on Blogcritics.

When I see Lucas Duda hitting another long home run, or Justin Turner playing second base like he was in the seventh game of the World Series, or Dillon Gee on the mound making me think of a young Tom Seaver, I realize that 2011 is not another lost year at all: it is more like 1968 all over again. For those of you too young to remember that, it was a turning point for the Mets organization. I believe this year is pretty much the same thing.
Like the 1968 Mets, the team got a new manager. It is interesting to compare Terry Collins with Gil Hodges, whose managerial styles seem similar. In fact, Hodges took over a dismal team and made the players think they could win; Collins has done pretty much the same thing this year.

The 1968 Mets were 73-89 for the season, but this was an internship for most of the young players and, just like the 2011 Mets, there were quite a few of them on the team. The elder statesman in '68 was Ed Charles (35), but the rest of the players like Cleon Jones, Tommie Agee, and Ed Kranepool were in their mid-twenties. Seaver was 23 and clocking in with a 16-12 season. Gee will probably end with a better winning percentage this year, but the similarities are striking.

There was also the most salient aspect of life for the 1968 season: Hodges wanted those kids to go out and have fun. In the process they were learning, sort of on the job training, and the same thing is happening with the 2011 Mets. The current team is 67-69 and may just end with a better record than their 1968 counterparts, but the foundation is being established by Collins for next year, just as Hodges did in 1968.

The 1969 Mets would be what legendary announcer Lindsey Nelson would describe as "a new breed of Mets." The team would post a 100-62 record, take the division, and then the pennant from the Hank Aaron led Atlanta Braves, and then impossibly take on the legendary Baltimore Orioles and defeat them in the World Series.

I am not saying that the 2012 Mets will accomplish this, but the groundwork is being done for next year's team to be really big. If you watch the fireworks going off on the field, you will see the energy level this team is bringing out of the dugout. While the players could get comfortable and just play out the remaining games, Collins has them pushing hard and playing like it matters, and in a way it does matter, even more so than if the team were locked in a pennant race.

This is a win-win for the team and its fans. The games at Citi Field are exciting because the players are going out, having fun, and winning some games and losing some, but all the while the fundamentals are present and Collins is responsible for this culture of positivity. The team definitely thinks it can win any game against any opponent, and that will go a long way with the fans for the rest of this year.

Next year the Mets will be stronger; perhaps they will add a big bopper (just as the 1969 Mets added Don Clendenon) who can get that three run homer when they need it most. All the ingredients are coming together now thanks to the way Collins has churned the pot. Don't be surprised if next year the Mets will have the recipe for success, and we will have master chef Collins to thank for it.

Photo Credits:
Terry Collins - AP
Gil Hodges -

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Labor Day Is No Holiday for the Unemployed

Article first published as Labor Day Is No Holiday for the Unemployed on Blogcritics.

I have always viewed Labor Day as an important holiday to celebrate. As Mother's Day and Father's Day make us take notice of those unsung heroes of our families, Labor Day is meant to recognize all those who labor, and across America those people who are in blue collar, white collar, and no collar jobs deserve this day set aside as a "thank you" from Uncle Sam for all the effort all year long.

If you find yourself unemployed on Labor Day, the day takes on a different significance. I have heard an unemployed friend say, "You have the day off? I wish I was working today. I would work every holiday and every weekend. I just wish I had a job." I am sure many people without jobs feel the same way, especially if they are long-term unemployed (out of work for more than twenty-seven weeks).

Right now we still have an unemployment rate of 9.1 percent. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics that means fourteen million Americans are out of work, and this figure is unchanged since April. So I do keep hearing this sector and that sector are adding jobs, but other jobs are being lost and that means there is no tangible improvement at this point.

I know Congress and President Obama are not playing nice these days. I guess expecting them to work in a non-partisan way to benefit the American people is too much to ask. I mean, it is summer after all and why should our senators, representatives, and President deprive themselves of vacations (to places we can only dream of going)? That budget problem was heavy lifting for these guys, so I guess tackling unemployment is not a priority, at least while they work on their tans, golf swings, or are rocking in a hammock somewhere.

So we may hear some politicians talking about Labor Day; some will march in parades, and others will take adds out in newspapers saluting the American worker. That is all very nice, but that does nothing to change that 9.1% unemployment rate.

We should collectively think about what can be done to get people back to work. If you own a business, is there a way to hire more workers? We can write to our local and national leaders and tell them "Make unemployment the thing you tackle first when you come back from your extended vacations." If enough people raise their voices, at least we will be heard.

As you celebrate Labor Day and throw hot dogs, burgers, and another shrimp on the barbie, remember how fortunate you are to have a job. Quit complaining about the small stuff, and recognize that you wouldn't want to be one of those 9.1%.

We are lucky to have our jobs, and some of us even have two in order to make ends meet, but there are those out there who need a break in order to get back to work and lower that unemployment rate. We Americans owe it to those people and future generations to fix this situation, now if only Congress and the President could get with the program.

Perhaps, if they don't deal with this issue, we voters can make a difference and put some of these people out of office. Then they will be out of work too and know the feeling, and maybe that unemployment rate will mean something more to them than just numbers. Come on, Washington, the clock is ticking!