The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “New York Mets”

A Mets Post Mortem

Let me begin by congratulating the Kansas City Royals on their first World Championship season in 30 years.  I also want to acknowledge my pre-season error when I predicted that the Royals were probably a fluke last year, and would be unlikely to repeat as A.L. champions this season.  The Royals appear to be a team whose sum is greater than the whole of their individual parts, but baseball being a team sport, they were well-constructed and expertly managed.

As for the Mets, the Royals did a fantastic job exposing and exploiting each of their weaknesses.  Specifically, a team built around starting pitching will probably be most vulnerable once those starting pitchers are removed.  In this day and age, when complete games are largely a thing of the past, this means that a bullpen cannot, then, play second-fiddle to a young and talented starting staff.

There needs to be a virtually seamless level of pitching talent from the first through the ninth innings.  After all, major league baseball is not a seven inning game.  If the manager signals, time after time, that he would rather trust his tired starters to pitch an inning longer than they should probably be allowed to instead of going to fresh bullpen arms, (and worse, if he allows himself to be talked into doing so by his spirited starters), then the final third of every game will inevitably become the Achilles heal of what should be a strategic advantage.

If I’m putting too fine a point on it, use the damned ‘pen at the beginning of an inning, not once an overworked starter has inevitably put a man or two on base.

The Mets infield defense is sub-par, and it’s difficult to imagine, quite frankly, how the Mets made it this far in the playoffs with not one above-average defensive infielder.  If your pitchers have to strike out eight to ten batters per game to keep the ball out of play (at least as far as the infield is concerned), you are A) forcing your starters to throw too many pitches through the first six innings to gain those 4-7 pitch strikeouts (vs. those one or three pitch ground-outs), and B) you are allowing the defense to become too comfortable, so that when a ground-ball is hit, the fielders are potentially less ready to make the play.

I love Danny Murphy for his bat, and yes, even though his homer total during the first-two rounds of the play-offs was fluky, the man can hit.  But an actual second-baseman (as opposed to a hitter who happens to play second-base) would be preferable to the current option.  If Murphy is allowed to move on elsewhere as a free agent, I would have to count that as a potentially positive move for the Mets, IF it results in an over-all improved infield defense (no sure thing at this point)

With the advent of sabermetrics, especially over the past fifteen years or so, a new orthodoxy has taken over most baseball teams.  Don’t run much, forget the sacrifice bunt, go for the long-ball, and take your walks.

Oddly, though, the original premise of (at least Billy Beane’s version) of sabermetrics wasn’t so much to enshrine any particular strategy as baseball’s version of the New Testament.  It was to exploit those aspects of baseball being neglected by your financially wealthier opponents. Which aspects of a given player’s skill-set were being undervalued, and how could a relatively poor team exploit those undervalued skills in the baseball marketplace?

Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson was (at the helm those aforementioned A’s teams) one of the earliest proponents of this philosophy of baseball, and translated to the (oddly) mid-market Mets, this philosophy has appeared to pay dividends in 2015.

Yet, as the Kansas City Royals have shown, there is apparently more than one way to win a World Championship.  The Royals offensive strategy, such as it is, is to play a kind of pre-1920’s baseball, when putting the ball in play, running with apparent abandon, and disrupting the other team’s game-plan (arguably the bete noire of sabermetrics) becomes the whole point of the game.

In other words, perhaps the movement of modern baseball G.M.’s to (at least appear to) embrace particular tenets of sabermetrics has become the new, already calcifying religious orthodoxy that, in turn can be exploited by a small market, 21st-century ball-club.  In effect, meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

While there is not necessarily a correlation between age and the ability to adapt to new realities, it is worth raising the point that with Sandy Alderson turning 68-years old later this month, and manager Terry Collins reaching his 67th birthday next May, are they the right men to have at the helm of a team composed of players who could be their grandchildren?  Will they be able to objectively evaluate the structural deficits of this team through the baseball lens of 2015, or will their baseball strategy perpetually reflect an era that might already be coming to an end?

Obviously, the payroll level Mets ownership settles on during this off-season will go a long way towards defining this team’s future, both immediate and long-term.  What can they afford to pay, for example, outfielder Yeonis Cespedes, and what will his asking price be?  Certainly, Cespedes uninspired post-season performance (12 hits in 54 at bats with one walk and 17 strikeouts) won’t help drive up his asking price, but do the Mets commit a very substantial chunk of payroll to him, pursue a different free agent outfielder, or go another route altogether?

Meanwhile, while it would certainly be tempting not to tamper with that young, talented pitching staff, would it make sense to trade one of those arms for a highly talented position player?  After all, as we saw in this World Series, a solo homer here or there is perhaps not the best way to achieve a balanced offense.

Finally, from a Mets fan point of view (and I’ve been one now for over 40 years), it should be noted that only two Major League teams were still playing meaningful baseball on November 1st, and the Mets were one of them.  From that perspective, and for the happy memories this team provided for their fans of the playoff series against both the Dodgers and the Cubs, we have to count 2015 as among of our all-time favorite, most enjoyable baseball seasons.

Thank you, New York Mets, for all your efforts this season, and let’s look optimistically forward to the 2016 baseball season, as I’m sure baseball fans of every team will also be doing.

Let’s Go Mets!

A Mets Anniversary, of Sorts

Sometimes,  coincidences have a way of falling into your lap.

A little while ago, I was replying to a comment on the fine baseball blog, Misc. Baseball, where a conversation about no-hitters as they relate to the Padres (and Mets) was taking place.  I happened to recall that San Francisco Giants pitcher Ed Halicki tossed a no-hitter against the Mets in 1975.  Curious about the date of that no-hitter, I decided to look it up.  Strangely enough, today is the 40th-anniversary of that game.

Here are some bits of trivia I discovered while researching Halicki’s no-hitter.

The Mets manager that day was Roy McMillan, who had replaced Yogi Berra whom the Mets fired just 18 days earlier.  The Mets had gone 56-53 up to the point Berra was fired.  Under McMillan, they went 26-27.

The Giants manager was Wes Westrum.  Westrum had managed the Mets from 1965-67.  After 1975, neither McMillan nor Westrum ever managed in the Majors again.

Entering the ’75 season, both Ed Halicki and Mets starting pitcher Craig Swan had pitched fewer than one-hundred innings apiece in the Majors.  They went on to have not entirely dissimilar careers.  Halicki posted a career record of 55-66 with a WAR of 11.6.  Craig Swan finished his career with a 59-72 record, and a 12.6 WAR.

In 1978, Halicki won just nine games, but led the N.L. with a 1.060 WHIP.

In 1978, Swan won just nine games, but led the N.L. with a 2.43 ERA.

Halicki’s no-hitter at Candlestick Park in San Francisco was the second game of a double-header that day.  The Mets, behind Jon Matlack, won the first game 9-5.  In the first game, the Giants didn’t even attempt to steal a base off of lefty Matlack and catcher Jerry Grote.  In the second game, they ran wild, notching five steals off of Swan and catcher John Stearns.

The most controversial play of the game occurred in the top of the 5th inning.  Mets batter Rusty Staub hit a liner off of the leg of pitcher Halicki, which then bounced over to second baseman Derrel Thomas who picked up the ball, then dropped it.  The official scorer ruled this an error on Thomas.  But Mets beat-writer Dick Young was outraged by this scoring, and complained loudly about it.  He believed this play should have been scored a hit.

Though the no-hitter stood, official scorer Joe Sargis of UPI lost his part-time job as an official scorer.

Giants first baseman Willie Montanez drove in the Giants first two runs of the game in the bottom of the first inning.  Though the Giants would go on to win 6-0, those first two runs would be the only runs Halicki would need to win.  Three years later, the well-traveled Montanez would lead the Mets with 96 RBI.

Other than Staub reaching on an error in the 5th, the only other base-runners the Mets would have that day were pinch-hitter Mike Vail’s walk in the 6th-inning, and a one-out walk in the 9th to center-fielder Del Unser.

This was the last no-hitter ever pitched by a Giants pitcher at Candlestick Park.

It would be another 37-years until Johan Santana would throw the first no-hitter by a Mets pitcher in history (June 1, 2012.)  June 1st is also the birthday of Rick Baldwin, who pitched three innings in relief of Craig Swan on that August day in 1975 at Candlestick Park.

Look closely enough, and baseball is always full of quirky stats and surprises.

National League Predictions For 2015

There is but one potentially great team in the National League, the Washington Nationals.  They are the only team in the Majors that I could imagine winning as many as 100 games in 2015. There are about another half-dozen N.L. teams I can see making the playoffs, depending on the breaks they receive.  The weakest division in the N.L., even with the inclusion of those Nats, is the N.L. East.  Like wages in right-to-work states, it is essentially a race to the bottom in that division.

N.L. East

1888 Washington Nationals team photo

1888 Washington Nationals team photo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1)  Nationals – It’s a pretty ridiculous pitching staff when Doug Fister is your 4th starter.  Prediction:  98 wins.

2)  Mets – Young and ready to rise above .500, and Matt Harvey adds swagger.  If everything breaks right, a potential Wild Card contender.  Prediction:  83 wins.

3)  Marlins – In some ways, not really all that different from the Mets.  The return to form of Jose Fernandez is key.  Prediction: 81 wins.

4)  Braves – May not finish in last place only because the Phillies are still allegedly a Major League baseball team.  Prediction:  74 wins.

5)  Phillies – May not finish in last place only because the Braves might be even worse than expected.  Prediction:  69 wins.

N.L. Central

1) Cardinals – Does this team ever have a really bad season?  Not this year.  Should rather easily win the Central Division.  Prediction:  90 wins

2) Pirates – An outfield of McCutchen, Polanco, and Marte is one to salivate over.  Should take a Wild Card slot, even with some pitching issues.  Prediction:  85 wins.

3)  Cubs – Lots of people pick the Cubs to grab a Wild Card slot this year.  Could happen, but I’m betting their chances are better in 2016.  Prediction:  83 wins.

4)  Brewers –  Really didn’t do much to improve their team in the off-season.  Lost their de facto ace, Gallardo.  Should be consistently mediocre.  Prediction:  79 wins.

5)  Reds –  A franchise that appears to be moving in the wrong direction.  Will Joey Votto and Jay Bruce return to form?  Prediction:  73 wins.

N.L. West

1)  Dodgers – Look very strong on paper.  Would be hard-pressed not to at least make the playoffs, even if they somehow don’t win this division outright.  Prediction:  93 wins.

2)  Padres – Lots of upgrades in the off-season, but still not a shoo-in for a Wild Card slot, though I think they’ll grab one.  Prediction:  85 wins.

3)  Giants – The Giants are consistently the most difficult team for me to pick correctly.  Bumgarner is a monster, but tossed a huge number of innings last season.  Prediction:  83 wins.

4)  Rockies – Car-Go and Tu-Lo, Corey Dickerson, Blackmon and Arenado provide a solid core of offense.  If the pitching improves at all, this could be the surprise team of the N.L.  Prediction:  80 wins.

5)  Diamondbacks – Hard to envision this team not finishing in last place.  May even be the worst team in the entire Majors this year.  Prediction:  65 wins.

World Series prediction:  Nationals over the Red Sox in seven games.

 

 

All 2-14 Seasons Are Not of Equal Value

If a pitcher posts a win-loss record of 2-14, it’s easy to assume he’s had a lousy year.  With a record like that, he might even be looking for a new line of work in the off-season.  Yet, strange as it may seem, there can be important qualitative differences between one 2-14 season and another.

To begin with, here are some raw stats for a pair of pitchers who each posted a 2-14 season in their career:

Pitcher A:  2-14,  119 innings pitched,  510 batters faced,  71 strikeouts,  1.324 WHIP.

Pitcher B:  2-14,  121 innings pitched,  517 batters faced,  64 strikeouts,  1.364 WHIP.

As you can see, not a great deal of difference so far between these two pitchers.

Yet, for pitcher A, this represented the best season of his career, in which he posted a WAR of 3.3.

For pitcher B, those numbers represented one of the worst seasons of his career:  -0.5 WAR.

Pitcher A was exclusively a reliever in his 2-14 season.  Pitcher B swung back and forth between the bullpen and the starting rotation.

The team for which Pitcher A toiled went 70-92 in his 2-14 season.

The team for which Pitcher B worked slogged through a 72-90 season.

Pitcher A’s team had been picked to finish in last place by many writers before the season.

Pitcher B’s team had been picked to win their division.

They both pitched in what were considered to be “pitchers” parks.

Pitcher A was 28-years old.  Pitcher B was 26-years old.  “A” was a lefty.  “B” threw right-handed.

So what separated one 2-14 season from the other?

Pitcher A posted a 2.04 ERA, and an ERA+ of 174.

Pitcher B posted an ERA of 4.17, and an ERA+ of just 85.

Pitcher A was charged with having surrendered 27 earned runs.  Pitcher B gave up more than twice as many, 56.

The defense behind Pitcher A ranked #1 in Fielding Percentage in his 2-14 season.  The defense behind Pitcher B ranked 8th out of 12 teams.

Pitcher B, of the 4.17 ERA, was out of baseball by age 31.  Pitcher A lasted until he was 38-years old.

Pitcher B holds the record for consecutive losses, losing 27 straight decision from 1992-93.

Pitcher A is the only pitcher to have appeared in all seven games of a World Series.

Pitcher B, of course, is former New York Mets pitcher Anthony Young.

Pitcher A was a member of the Washington Senators in 1970 when he posted his 2-14 record, but is more closely linked with the Oakland A’s teams of the 1970’s, Darold Knowles.

From 1992-93, Anthony Young posted a record of 3-30, (2-14 in 1992), though not pitching quite badly enough to have earned such a horrific record.  Knowles never lost in double-digits again.

As you can see, a pitcher’s won-lost record does not tell the whole story of how he actually pitched.  In fact, it can quite clearly tell us nothing worth knowing at all.

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My Early All-Star Game Ballot

I know it is exceedingly early to be doing this, but MLB.com sent me an on-line invitation to cast my votes for this season’s All-Stars, and I couldn’t resist.  I’m sure some of my picks might very well change several weeks from now, but then again, I have a feeling that several of them would not.  Here’s my early ballot for 2013:

American League:

1B  Chris Davis –          .356 / 7 / 22

2B  Robinson Cano –    .325 / 6 / 14

3B  Miguel Cabrera –   .367 / 2 / 19

SS  Jed Lowrie –           .366 / 3 / 14

C  Joe Mauer –              .366 / 2 / 8

OF Michael Bourne –   .333 2 / 2  (well, he doesn’t get paid to drive in runs)

OF Alex Gordon –        .338 / 1 / 11

OF Adam Jones –         .345 / 3 / 16

DH Lance Berkman –  .345 / 2 / 14

Starting Pitcher:  Matt Moore – 4-0, 1.04 ERA, 0.923 WHIP

Two months from now, I’ll still probably be voting for Cano, Cabrera, Mauer, Gordon and Jones.  Davis will still be a reasonable possibility, though let’s not rule out Albert Pujols.   Gordon has been the most underrated player in the A.L. for the past two seasons.  All Berkman ever does is hit.  HOF, anyone?

Michael Bourne could also still make my ballot, though I have to wonder if Mike Trout or Josh Reddick will bump him off by then.  Adam Jones is a fine young player in his prime.  Lowrie always gets off to a hot start, and may be the player most likely to exit this list at a later date.  I know we don’t get to vote for pitchers, but Matt Moore would be my choice.

National League:  

1B  Paul Goldschmidt –   .329 / 4 / 16

2B  Daniel Murphy –       .347 / 2 / 13

3B  David Wright –          .309 / 2 / 16

SS  Brandon Crawford – .320 / 4 / 10

C  Yadier Molina –          .308 / 2 / 14

OF  Carlos Gonzalez –     .320 / 4 / 12

OF  Shin-Soo Choo –      .392 / 3 / 9 (Has already been hit by pitches 10 times this year, and sports a .534 on-base percentage!)

OF  Bryce Harper –        .351 / 7 / 15

SP  Matt Harvey –         4-0, 1.54 ERA, 0.686 WHIP  (Harvey vs. Moore, now there’s a 21st-Century match-up.)

How about that outfield?  Carlos Gonzalez would look good in a Mets uniform.  As a Mets fan, you may think that I voted for Murphy, Wright and Harvey (again, I didn’t actually “vote” for Harvey) because they play for the Mets.  Not so.  There have been recent seasons when I didn’t vote for a single Mets player.  If you suck, you suck.  I don’t care which uniform you wear.  But, at this point, Wright and Murphy are legitimate choices.

With all due respect to Buster Posey, Yadier Molina is the best catcher in the Majors.  And though the Mets John Buck has already swatted seven homers, I’ll take Molina as my All-Star starting catcher.

Goldschmidt could very well be my choice two months from now, but let’s not forget that Joey Votto is still one of the best players in the game.  Brandon Crawford is my current choice, subject to change.  I doubt that outfield will change at all.  (What ever happened to Matt Kemp?)  And Matt Harvey?  Unless he blows his arm out, God forbid, he may be my choice for years to come.

What are your thoughts about the early season All-Star favorites?

Matt Harvey: A Baker’s Dozen Starts

You may have noticed that Mets phenom Matt Harvey is off to an incredible start to his career.  The big right-hander has made thirteen major league starts, and, to this point, he has been nothing but dominant.  Relatively small sample size, yes, but his numbers are staggering.  Take a look at his pitching line below:

Innings Pitched: 81, Hits: 48, HR: 6, Strikeouts: 95, Walks: 32, ERA: 2.21, WHIP: 0.984, K’s /9 IP: 10.5

Notice the unbelievably low number of hits surrendered, the high strikeout totals, and the fantastic WHIP.

This got me to wondering about the first 13 starts of several other famous pitchers in MLB history.  Can we draw any valid conclusions to what Harvey has accomplished so far?  Is there historical precedent for such a dominant beginning to a MLB career for a starting pitcher?

I took a look at several pitchers, some active and some retired.  A couple are in the Hall of Fame.  How much success did they enjoy at the beginning of their careers?  Here’s what I discovered.  Which of the following, if any, do you think is the best match for Matt Harvey’s career to this point?

The number in parentheses after the pitcher’s name is his age at the time of his MLB debut.  Matt Harvey, by the way, was 23-years old.

Tom Seaver:  (22)

IP: 101.2,  Hits: 85,  HR: 11, Strikeouts: 59, Walks: 25, ERA: 2.41, WHIP: 1.08, K’s /9 IP: 6.5

It may come as a surprise that Seaver did not immediately begin his career as a big-time strikeout pitcher.  His K rate of just 6 1/2 per nine innings is decent for a young pitcher, but not spectacular.  Certainly, Seaver’s rate is nowhere near as impressive as Harvey’s.  Keep in mind, thought, that a stigma still existed among hitters in those days regarding striking out.  Some batters used to choke up on the bat with two strikes on them.  Does anyone still do that?

Dwight Gooden:  (19)

IP:  82.2, Hits:  57, HR: 1, Strikeouts:  96, Walks:  35, ERA:  2.61, WHIP:  1.12, K’s /9 IP:  10.6

Doc Gooden’s first thirteen starts do bear a striking resemblance to Matt Harvey’s fledgling career.  In virtually the same number of innings, Gooden’s strikeouts and walks are essentially the same as Harvey’s.  Gooden was unbelievably stingy with the long ball, however, surrendering just one to Harvey’s six.  But Harvey was even tougher to hit than Gooden.  Harvey’s lower WHIP is primarily the result of nine fewer hits surrendered in about one less inning pitched.

Roger Clemens: (21)

IP:  78.2, Hits: 101, HR: 9, Strikeouts:  68, Walks: 17, ERA:  5.13, WHIP:  1.50, K’s / 9 IP:  7.5

Just looking at that bloated ERA suggest Roger wasn’t quite ready to establish himself at the Major League level when he first arrived.  The same is true of his WHIP, though his K rate is promising, and obviously improved as he matured.  Clemens first 13 starts do not match up well with Matt Harvey.

Mark Prior:  (21)

IP:  79,  Hits:  61,  HR: 11, Strikeouts:  96, Walks:  30, ERA:  3.65, WHIP:  1.15, K’s / 9 IP:  10.6

Again, as with Gooden, not entirely dissimilar to Harvey, though the homer rate is considerably higher for Prior.  Prior’s WHIP is impressive, but still not in Matt Harvey territory.  His K rate per nine matches up well with both Gooden and Harvey, though.  And that’s 13 more hits for Prior in two fewer innings pitched than Harvey.

Kerry Wood:  (20)

IP:  79.1, Hits:  56, HR:  5, Strikeouts:  118, Walks:  42, ERA:  3.40, WHIP:  1.24, K’s / 9 IP:  13.1

Holy smoke, look at that K rate per nine innings.  That’s unbelievable.  Respectable WHIP, homer rate, and a decent ERA as well.  Higher walk rate leads to a higher overall WHIP than Harvey.  Harvey has allowed 80 base-runners in 81 innings pitched.  Wood allowed 98 base-runners in 79 innings.  Clearly, aside from the strikeouts, Harvey has been a much more polished pitcher than was Kerry Wood.

Felix Hernandez:  (19)

IP:  89.1, Hits:  63, HR:  5, Strikeouts:  81, Walks:  25, ERA:  2.62, WHIP:  0.98, K’s / 9 IP:  9.0

The first thing that I noticed was the relatively high number of innings pitched over his first 13 starts.  Among the pitchers on this list, only Seaver tossed more innings.  Hernandez, though, appears to have been a pretty efficient pitcher.  His walk rate is low, and while his K rate is very nice, it’s not so high that his strikeout totals are causing him to throw an inordinate number of pitches per batter.  His WHIP is second only to Harvey on this list.  King Felix was a remarkably polished pitcher at age 19, but Harvey’s K rate is better, and his WHIP and ERA are still lower.

Stephen Strasburg:  (21)

IP:  73,  Hits:  58, HR: 5, Strikeouts: 96, Walks: 17, ERA:  2.71, WHIP:  1.02, K’s / 9 IP:  10.6

Fantastic strikeout to walk ratio, and basically the same K’s per nine as Prior, Gooden and Harvey.  His WHIP is close as well.  Harvey is still tougher to hit than is Strasburg, and his ERA is slightly lower as well.  All things considered, through 13 starts, Strasburg is quite close to Harvey, though he’s not better.

Clayton Kershaw:  (20)

IP:  69,  Hits:  74, HR:  6, Strikeouts:  65, Walks:  32, ERA:  4.11, WHIP:  1.53, K’s / 9 IP:  7.2

His numbers are closer to Roger Clemens’ than to anyone else’s on this list.  Kershaw may have come up to the Majors a bit before he was ready, but it hasn’t seemed to have harmed him so far.  As with Clemens, the K rate showed potential for growth, and the K to walk ratio is quite respectable for a 20-year old kid.  The WHIP is high, revealing a hit rate higher than some of the others on this list.  Kershaw’s command wasn’t yet refined, as it was to become a year or so later.

This list could go on and on, of course.  But I have a suspicion that you aren’t going to find many debuts as impressive as Harvey’s.  Where his career will go from here is anyone’s guess.  While Prior and Gooden can be viewed as cautionary tales, and Strasburg and Kershaw haven’t been around long enough to draw useful conclusions, Felix Hernandez, now in his ninth season, has had a successful and healthy career thus far.  Let’s hope for the same for Matt Harvey, and enjoy him while we can.

Ten Fast Starts in Baseball History

In baseball, as in life, it’s important to get off to a good start.  If I begin my day, for example, by mistakenly squeezing my wife’s hair gel on to my toothbrush, I know I’m in for a rough day.  And my first morning cup of coffee better have the right balance of sugar and cream, or the joy of the day will seep slowly away.

Championship baseball teams do not always get off to fast starts. The 1914 “Miracle” Braves began the season with a 4-18 record before going on to win the World Series.  Other teams stay close to the top before catching fire during the final four to six weeks, stealing victory from the proverbial jaws of defeat.

Often, however, a championship team (or at least a playoff-bound team) will send a message to the rest of the league early, making it clear that they’re out for blood. The obvious advantage of getting off to a quick start is, of course, that it leaves said team with a certain margin for error as the season plays out.  Also, it puts early pressure on their divisional opponents to not fall too far behind too quickly.  

While this is not a scientific, comprehensive study of this topic, the following ten teams are examples of how and why a fast start can make it virtually inevitable that the team that sprints out of the gate most successfully will often be the team celebrating (at least) a division title come October.

1) 2001 Seattle Mariners – Finished the season with a Major League record 116 wins against just 42 losses. The Mariners began the season with a 20-5 record in April, and were 40-12 at the end of May.  They won their division, and advanced all the way to the A.L. Championship series vs. the Yankees, where they lost in five exciting games.

2) 1986 New York Mets – Posted a record of 108-54, winning their division by 21.5 games over the second place Phillies.    The Mets enjoyed a 13-3 April, including an 11-game winning streak, and were 31-12 by Memorial Day.  They would, of course, go on to defeat the Red Sox in a seven-game World Series thriller.

3) 1998 New York Yankees – Before the Mariners won a record 116 games in ’01, the Yanks had set the record themselves with 114 wins in ’98.  The Yanks finished 22 games ahead of the second-place Red Sox in the A.L. East.  After dropping four of their first five, the Yankees quickly righted the ship and won 16 of their next 18 games, finishing April with a 17-6 record, which further improved to  37-13 after two months.  The Yanks would go on to sweep the Padres in four World Series games.

4) 1984 Detroit Tigers – The Tigers began the season 35-5, and never looked back.  They led their division from wire-to-wire, eventually winning a total of 104 games.  Starting pitcher Jack Morris, who tossed a no-hitter in April, was already 10-1 before the end of May (though he was just 9-10 after that point.)  Morris also won three playoff games that season, posting a 1.80 ERA in those three starts.  The Tigers defeated the Padres in a five-game World Series.

5) 1969 Baltimore Orioles – Blew away the rest of the A.L., winning 109 games.  The Orioles finished 19 games ahead of the second-place Tigers in the A.L. East in the inaugural year of divisional play.  After sweeping a double-header by the combined score of 19-5 on May 4th against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, the Orioles were already 20-8 on the young season.  Through May 30th, they were 34-14.  The Orioles would defeat the Twins in the first ever A.L. Championship series, then would shockingly win just one game in the ’69 Series vs. the Mets.

6) 1956 New York Yankees – Another in a long line of Yankee championship teams, the ’56 Yanks won seven of their first eight ball games, and were cruising with a 29-13 record by May 31st.  They finished the year with 97 wins, dropping their final two decisions at Fenway Park.  They went on to defeat the Brooklyn Dodgers in a seven-game World Series.  Don Larsen pitched a perfect game against the Dodgers in Game 5.

7) 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers – The only 20th-century Brooklyn team to win a World Championship, Dem Bums ran off ten straight victories to start the season, and were an unbelievable 22-2 by May 10th.  By the end of May, they were 32-11.  Ultimately, the Dodgers won 98 games, then defeated the Yankees in a seven-game World Series.

8) 1931 Philadelphia Athletics – This highly talented group finished the season with 107 wins, 13 more than the mighty Yankees of Ruth and Gehrig.  Admittedly, the A’s were just 7-7 at one point, but then won 17 consecutive games and went into June with a record of 30-10.  Nevertheless, this particular Athletics team lost the ’31 World Series to the Cardinals in seven games.

9) 1927 New York Yankees – Murderer’s Row opened the first week of their historic season by going 6-0-1 in the first week of the season.  By May 19th, they were 21-8-1 en route to a 110-44-1 season.  They finished 19 games ahead of the second-place Athletics.  In the World Series, they systematically dismantled the Pirates in just four games.

10) 1905 New York Giants – This team featured Christy Mathewson, “Iron Joe” McGinnity, Roger Bresnahan and, for one game, the mysterious “Moonlight” Graham.  The Giants began the season by winning six of their first seven games, and were 25-6 by May 23rd.  Ultimately, they would win 105 games on the season.  In just the second World Series ever played, John McGraw’s Giants would defeat Connie Mack’s Athletics in five games, a Series in which Christy Mathewson would toss three shutouts in six days.

As you can see, there are several examples in baseball history of the importance of getting off to a fast start.  While this has not been the path followed by each and every championship squad, a good start often does bode well for a team’s chances of making the playoffs.

National League Baseball Predictions – 2013

Since this is the second part of a two-part mini-series, I’ll dispense with a redundant introduction.  If you want to read Part 1, my American League Predictions, that initial introduction should suffice.

So, let’s get on with it.

National League

East

1)  Washington – Fields two of the most exciting players in the game (Strasburg and Harper).  Made the playoffs last year without breaking a sweat.  Could win a hundred games this year.  Harper will win the N.L. MVP award.  Strasburg averaged 11 K’s / 9 innings last year, and could win the Cy Young award this year.

2)  Atlanta – Two-thirds of their new outfield, the Brothers Upton, have been more disappointing than the latest unemployment numbers, and the third, Jason Heyward, has had his share of growing pains as well.  Still, no team in their division outside of Washington is obviously better.  87 wins.

3)  Philadelphia – Appears to be melting before us like a snowman in the March sun.  Older, residual talent, mostly of the pitching variety, will be sufficient to grind through an 84-win season.

4)  New York – A couple of young players, perhaps Ike Davis and Matt Harvey, will shine, but a sub-par outfield and overall lack of depth will ensure another sub-.500 season out in Queens.

5)  Florida – Is there anything left to root for down in Miami?  Fans should stay home in droves this year in protest of this sham of a franchise.

Central

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1)  Cincinnati – Votto, Bruce and Choo (acquired from Cleveland) will produce oodles of offense, while Cueto and Latos will hold down a respectable staff.  92 wins should be sufficient to take this division.

2)  St. Louis – Yadier Molina might be in the first-half of a HOF career.  Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran are still fine players, but both are well past 30 years old.  Pitching staff appears adequate, if unspectacular = 86 wins.

3)  Milwaukee – “There once was a player named Ryan / For PED’s he kept sayin’ he’d not tried ’em / But his name it did appear / on a client’s list so clear / Makes you wonder how much more he’ll be denyin’.”  83 wins.

4)   Pittsburgh – Because the Cubs don’t have Andrew McCutchen.  Once again, a sub-.500 team.  77 wins.

5)  Chicago – Staff “ace” Matt Garza is a perennial tease.  New addition Edwin Jackson, now on his 8th team in eleven years, changes teams more often than a hooker changes her underwear.  But really, it’s always been about an afternoon in the sun at Wrigley, hasn’t it?

West

1)  Los Angeles – Manager Don Mattingly needs to drive this expensive new vehicle into first place, or upper management might be looking for a new driver next season.  With Kershaw and Greinke at the top of the rotation, and Kemp, A-Gone, Hanley, Crawford and Ethier in the lineup, this team either wins the division, or heads will roll.  95 wins.

2)  San Francisco – Pencil them in as one of the two N.L. Wild Card teams this year, because nobody does it better. Tim Lincecum will look to rebound and join the highly capable Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner in what should once again be a top-five N.L. pitching staff.  Catcher Buster Posey may be the best in the game.  87 wins.

3)  San Diego – Has apparently moved in the fences this year, which should help Alonso, Quentin, and Headley (one of baseball’s best kept secrets.)  But what the fences giveth, the fences will take away, namely an overly spacious park where fly-balls used to go to die.  But the pitching staff, led by the enigmatic Edinson Volquez, could suffer a bit as a result.   81 wins.

4)  Arizona – So what does Arizona know about Justin Upton that the Braves don’t know?  Martin Prado is a versatile player, and there should still be enough thump in the lineup to keep the score interesting.  The staff, with Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy, could be this team’s strength, if healthy.  79 wins.

5)  Colorado – Once upon a time, they were the toast of the American West, drawing over four million souls in their initial campaign.  Now, although a healthy Tulowitzki, along with Car-Go and Fowler should generate some runs, the pitching staff may be the worst in baseball.  Also, it’s time to tow the S.S. Helton out to sea so the Navy could use it for strafing runs.  71 wins.

So there you go, folks.  Your five N.L. playoff teams are probably Washington, Atlanta, Cincinnati, L.A., and San Fran.  I predict that the Nats will go on to defeat the Angels in a seven game World Series classic.

Or not.

How the Mets Will Win 120 Games in 2013

As a Mets fan, it would be easy to succumb to the reality-based prognostications of the so-called “experts.”  Many of them believe the Mets will win somewhere between 70-79 games, finishing in the bottom half of the N.L. East.  Keep in mind that the Mets won 74 games last season, their fourth straight fourth-place finish in the N.L. East.  (The Mets haven’t finished in last place since waaaayyyy back in 2003.  So there’s that.)

Well, I say not so fast, guys.  After all, Spring Training is upon us, and hope (if not necessarily logic) springs eternal.  I am fully convinced that the Mets will lose no more than around a forty games this year.  Here’s how.

1)  Manager Terry Collins guided the Mets to 77 wins in 2011, three more than last season.  I’m sure he’s learned from his mistakes, so he should easily get those three wins back.  +3

2)  Johan Santana won just six games last year (including the Mets first no-hitter in history.)  His career 162-game average has been 15 wins per season.  After on off-season doing nothing but drinking V-8 Juice and firewalking, he should be back to his old winning ways.  Add nine more wins to the column.  +9

3)  Matt Harvey said in one of his first media appearances this spring that his goal is to win 20 games this year.  Matthew is 6’4″, 225 pounds, so who are you or I to argue with him?  Last year he won three of ten starts, but averaged over a strikeout an inning, and posted an ERA+ of 141.  So, obviously, he’s talented.

Davis and his new Hawaiian Bib

Just  another Yankee cry-baby

Also, the Mets have a history of grinding their young stud pitchers into the dust (see:  Wilson, Paul, and Pulsipher, Bill, among others.)  Therefore, don’t expect any namby pamby, New York Yankees “Joba Rules” for Harvey.  If he can get his shirt on, them By God, the boy should pitch.  He ain’t no droolin’ little baby.  Add 17 wins to last year’s three, and you have your 20-win season, Matt.  +17

4)  Ike Davis slugged an impressive 32 homers and drove in 90 runs last year, despite hitting a Dave Kingman-esque .223.  How did he manage to hit for such a low average?  Basically, he swung as hard as he could on every single pitch, sometimes finishing his swing even before the pitcher had decided what to throw.  No worries, for Ike Davis claims that his goal this year is to be much more selective at the plate.  He wants to draw as many as 100 walks (compared to last year’s total of 61.)  Davis’ WAR last year was an abysmal 0.7.

But we all know that WAR loves walks the way the N.R.A. loves hollow-point bullets.  Therefore, all those extra walks should result in a WAR of, say 5.0, which is Davis’ entire career total to date.  (That’s five wins above replacement, for those of you scoring at home.)  If we round up last year’s WAR to 1.0, this means Mr. Davis should expect to help the Mets win four extra games in 2013.  +4

English: Chipper Jones

Chipper Jones can’t hurt us anymore

5)  Chipper Jones has finally retired.  In a normal year, the Mets could expect to be defeated, not by the Atlanta Braves, but by Chipper Jones himself, at least three times per year.  Chipper should go into the Hall of Fame in five years wearing a New York Mets cap, because if you take his career production against the Mets away, he becomes just some guy named Larry.  +3

6)  Power of Positive Thinking should not be underrated.  Just this morning, for example, my car wouldn’t quite start.  It was an unusually cold morning here in Greenville, and she just didn’t want to turn over.  At first, I was angry.  Then I realized that with a little positive thinking, I could “will” her to start up.  So I waited until the count of three, then tried again.  Still nothing.

It was then I noticed the gas needle lying flat in the red zone.  Not a drop in the tank.  Granted, this sounds a lot like the Mets current outfield.  But then I remembered there might be a little gas left in the plastic canister I use to fill my lawnmower in the warmer months.  Sure enough, there was just enough in there to pour into my car’s gas tank to get her started.

Terry Collins

Terry Collins understands the power of positive thinking

Now, I know what you might be thinking.  “But Bill, we have no spare high-test outfielders we could just drop into our outfield.”  To which I would respond, “Why are you mixing gas cans with outfielders?  What does one have to do with the other?  I don’t get the analogy.”

The point being, you can’t underestimate the power of positive thinking, even if you can’t quite quantify it.  But I successfully drove the three miles to the neighborhood Spinx on just a whiff of gas.  If each mile represents just one Mets win, then that should conservatively mean an additional three wins for the Mets this year.  +3

7)  Inflation is currently increasing at an annual rate of about 2%.  You can’t defeat the laws of economics.  If inflation is 2%, then the Mets win total should increase by about that rate this year.  Two-percent of 74 wins (last year’s total) is 1.48.  If you round 1.48 to the nearest whole number, you end up with 1.00.  But we’ll round it up to 2.00 because we are optimists, and hyper-inflation could be just around the corner.  By next month, we might be pushing wheelbarrows full of hundred-dollar bills around just to buy our daily bagel and coffee.  So there’s two more wins right there.  +2

8)  Jason Bay is gone.  If you believe in addition by subtraction, as I do, then Bay’s bye-bye should be worth at least two additional wins this season, don’t you think?    +2

9)  In an embarrassing oversight on the Mets part, you may recall  last season outfielder Mike Baxter played 54 games in the outfield before the Mets coaching staff realized he wasn’t wearing a baseball glove.  The seven broken fingernails in three weeks puzzled the team trainer until late July, when finally Mr. Met, the team mascot, pantomimed catching the ball with his face.  Baxter, it turns out, never played baseball as a kid, and is only doing so now so his dad would “finally leave me alone about hanging around the house all the time.”  This year, the Mets broke down and purchased an actual baseball mitt for Baxter on eBay (ironically, a Jason Bay model), for just $13.99, autographed, with a C.O.A.    +1

10)  Over the 51 years of the history of the Mets, they have averaged 76 wins per season.  As they say, all things revert to the mean.  If you’re up a bit too much one year, or down a little more than usual the following year, chances are, the ship will right itself and return to the mean.  Today, my six-year old son broke only two things.  The day before, he broke six things.  Tomorrow, then, I fully expect him to break four things, because that would be him just reverting to the mean.  The Mets are more or less broken right now.  Last season, they won just 74 games.  The year before that they won 77 games.  The year before that, it was 79 wins, and the year before that, 70 wins.

So it seems reasonable to assume that, at a minimum, you can add two wins for simply reverting to the mean.  +2

Now, if you add up each of these carefully thought-out additional wins, I believe you will be forced to come to the same conclusion as I have, that the Mets can’t help but win 120 games this season.

Give or take several dozen wins.

Mediocrity, and Mets Fans Life: Part 4

So you’ve come back for more.  Welcome to the final installment of this series.  Here are links to Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, should you feel the need to read them.

Now, boys and girls, away we go with Part 4.

1990-92:  Funny how relatively recent history, even personal history, can sometimes seem harder to recall than events of the more distant past.  When I think of the early ’90’s, I mostly recall my days drinking beer in the Old Port in Portland, Maine, my college classes at USM (I hated “Media and Politics” but loved “History of the Middle East”), sporadically dated a girl named ‘Becca (strange relationship, that one), tagged and shipped thousands of items in the L.L. Bean warehouse, and made two trips to the good ‘ole USSR.

Coat of arms of the Union of Soviet Socialist ...

Coat of arms of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics from 1958 to 1991 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I could go on for several thousand words about my two trips to a superpower that was on the verge of disintegration.  What I can tell you are three things:  1)  No one saw it coming  2)  The Russian / Ukrainian people are just like us, and, at the same time, couldn’t be more unlike us  and 3)  I brought a Ukrainian girl home with me.

In May, 1990, on a student exchange with Kharkov University, Kharkov, USSR, I got to live with a Ukrainian family in this city replete with 1950’s Stalinist architecture, about twice the size of Atlanta, for one week.  Kharkov is about 280 miles from the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster zone.

A friend of mine lived with a family whose oldest daughter (let’s call her Valentina) often accompanied our little American / Soviet group on bus trips to various sites. (Gotta love those Soviet field trips.  “Please remember not to take pictures of our railroads or infrastructure!”)

The Russians often tried to impress us Americans with the sheer size of everything in their country.  One day, while passing a humongous factory in our railroad car, our Russian handler told us that this was the largest factory of its kind in the world, but, due to a shortage of spare parts, most of the tractors didn’t work.

Another time, we were shown a cannon in Moscow that was the biggest cannon of its time, used to face-down Napoleon in the early 19th century.  Unfortunately, it was so big, and required so much gunpowder, that it’s barrel cracked after the first time it was fired, so could no longer be used.  Then we were shown a replica of the world’s biggest chandelier, a beautiful, ornate monster that must have weighed as much as a T-34 Tank.  It was so big, we were told, that it couldn’t be hung from a ceiling for fear of it falling down and crushing someone beneath it.

This became the basis of a joke that would inevitably lead us to skewer the Soviet political system.  As we joked to ourselves, unkindly mocking our hosts, “We have the biggest cannon, but it is too big to use.  We have the biggest chandelier, but it is too big to use.  We have the biggest factories, but they, too, are too big to use.  And we also have the world’s most liberal Constitution.  Unfortunately, it is so liberal, we can’t use it.”

One thing led to another, and Valentina, a dark and mysterious girl who loved American jokes and jeans, but preferred the fatalism of the Russian soul to what we like to call “American Optimism,” became my girl, for a while.

Last time we met was a low lit room / We was close together as a bride and groom”

On a trip to Brooklyn, N.Y. in late 1991, Valentina was in the car with myself and my friend James, and a Russian dude of unknown origin (she had Russian contacts in America through her dad, a well-placed bureaucrat in the Russian government machine.)

“You led me on with those innocent eyes / You know I love the element of surprise”

On our way over the Brooklyn Bridge, she looked over at the amazing skyline of Manhattan, particularly over at the Twin Towers, and declared, as simply as you might discuss your favorite kind of salad dressing, “Someday, those will be destroyed.  All of this will be destroyed.”  By this time, we’d been together for several months, and she was already becoming more than a little weird to live with, so I wasn’t perhaps quite as patient or diplomatic as perhaps I should have been.  I said, “Honey, what the hell are you talking about?  This is Manhattan.  Who the hell is gonna destroy Manhattan?!”

We ate the food / Drank the Wine / Everyone having a good time / Except you, you were talking about the end of the world.”

I knew that she didn’t mean the USSR would be the culprit.  Hell, she and I both knew by that time what a lame fiasco her nation had become.  But that moment came back to me and froze me in place when I saw the news coming out of New York City on 9/11.

“In the garden I was playing guitar / I kissed your lips and broke your heart / You, you were acting like it was the end of the world.”

Valentina has been out of my life now for 20 years.  I heard she moved out west and joined a cult.  It wouldn’t surprise me.  But whenever I hear mention of Russia, or listen to the song featured in the music video below, I still think of her.

It’s easy to forget that amidst all this travel and confusion, I graduated Summa Cum Laude from USM in May of 1992, after five years of study, with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science.  Now what?

1993:  After the personal and international debacle that was the Soviet Union, I felt a need to reach out and embrace America in the most impractical way possible, I would drive across the entire country by myself.  I set out a couple of days after a monster March snowstorm that shut down the eastern seaboard from Maine to northern Virginia, arriving in Nashville, TN a couple of days later on a freezing, 25-degree morning.  My brother, Mark, was attending Western Washington State U. at the time in Bellingham, WA, a couple of hours outside of Seattle, and I decided to make the 3,000 mile journey out there to visit him and stay a few days.

Driving along I-40 through Memphis, this was the first time I’d ever crossed the Mississippi River.  The desert southwest, where I visited some relatives I hadn’t seen in ten years, was a revelation.  From the pine trees of Flagstaff, AZ down to the desert below, I had never experienced such a variety of climate and terrain in my life.  Some places, such as Kingman, AZ, Barstow and Bakersfield, CA each seemed to be a place I’d once seen in a movie set, perhaps a Sci-Fi monster movie from the 1950’s, (Them!) or a backdrop for an old Bogart film (They Drive By Night.)  I knew one thing.  I’d never be caught dead in any of those places after sundown.

Eventually arriving in Bellingham (Fairhaven, actually), I met my brother in a local coffee shop with his friend, Steve.  This was one of the coolest, most relaxing vacations I’d ever been on.  We were living virtually at the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, we drove into Seattle a couple of times, and one day, we drove all the way on up to Vancouver, where I suddenly remembered that I should probably call my boss over at L.L. Bean to let him know where I was and that I’d probably be away from work for a while.  The conversation, as I recall, from a red pay phone booth in Vancouver, went something like this:

“Hey, Russ.  This is Bill Miller.”

“Hi Bill, you calling in sick today?”

“Ah, not exactly, Russ.  I had to make an emergency trip out-of-state.”

“Oh, you gonna be back tomorrow?”

“Not likely, Russ.  I’m in Vancouver, and I’m gonna need a leave of absence for about a week or so.”

“Vancouver, Canada?  Jesus H. Christ!  (Pause)…So there’s no way you can make it back by tomorrow?  We’re really swamped here, what with fishing season just around the corner.”

“Sorry, Russ, I drove out here, so it’s gonna take a while to get back to Maine.”

“You drove out there?  Well, see if you can make it back by next Tuesday or Wednesday.”

“O.K., thanks, Russ.  I’ll see you in about a week.  I owe you one.”

Russ was a good guy, but would have been in over his head in a glass of water.

Twelve days later, I was back in Maine.  My first day back at the L.L. Bean warehouse, Russ came over and said, “You feel like tagging items upstairs in Zone 50?”  “Sure, man,” I responded.  Just like old times.

Meanwhile, over at Shea Stadium, the Mets were on a journey of their own, from excellence to mediocrity, (why stop there?) and on down to awfulness.

In 1990, led by an unbelievable rotation of Frank Viola (2o wins) Dwight Gooden (19 wins) David Cone (233 K’s), Sid Fernandez (just 6.5 hits / 9 innings) and Ron Darling, the Mets won 91 games and finished in second place in their division.  Recall this is the same year as my first happy visit to Russia.

1991:  Gooden and Viola are now just ordinary pitchers, Cone gets zero run support, and Wally freakin’ Whitehurst replaces El Sid in the rotation.  37-year old former Yankee Rick Cerone is our glossy new catcher.  The wheels have now completely fallen off of the 23-year old Greg Jefferies bandwagon.  Dave Magadan is the most boring Mets player of all-time.  Ho-Jo enjoys a 30-30 season that almost no one seems to notice.  Even Hubie Brooks, once shipped off to Montreal in the Gary Carter trade, has now been reunited with the Mets, perhaps to fully recall and embrace the losing years of the early ’80’s.  Outfielder Kevin McReynolds foreshadows Jason Bay by nearly 20 years.

The Mets win just 77 games, good for 5th place.

1992:  The Mets are now fully locked into their “Lose Now” strategy.  They sign free agent Bobby Bonilla in the off-season to shore up their offense, and he repays the Mets confidence with 19 homers and a .249 batting average.  The grounds crew unearths a pair of fossils on the right side of the infield.  It is later determined by forensic experts that they were once Eddie Murray and Willie Randolph.  The Mets slide down to 72 wins.   Recall that this is the year both the USSR and my relationship with my Soviet-era significant other disintegrate.

1993:  I’m thousands of miles away from Anthony Young, and his 1-16 record, so I consider this year a success on my part, even as it’s an unmitigated disaster at Shea Stadium.  The Mets have hit bottom (again), and my time at L.L. Bean is also nearly done as well.  The good news is that I join my first fantasy baseball league with a couple of friends from L.L. Bean’s.  The league lasts 15 years before finally disbanding.

1994:  Is my last year at L.L. Bean.  To this day, the seven and a half years I spent at Bean’s are the most I have ever worked at any one single location in my life.  I had studied in the ETEP (Extended Teacher Education Program) through USM to be a teacher during the fall / spring of 1993-94.  So in early August, 1994, just as the baseball season ground to a tragic halt due to management-labor strife, I quit L.L. Bean and moved up to a little town called Penobscot along the Maine coast (Northern Bay) to be a sixth grade public school teacher.

As it turned out, one year in a small Maine town far from friends and family, was enough for me.  But I must say that working in a school where nearly every single teacher had a basement bar in their home certainly did help me get through the long winter.  I managed to get food poisoning once from eating a tainted raw clam, and I used up two entire cords of wood heating my small, rented home.  The year was quite an experience, but not one I’d be anxious to repeat.

1995:  A period of general flux and instability.  To continue to teach, or not to teach?  A year away from teaching convinced me that I wanted to get back at it, and as soon as possible.  Meanwhile, through my friend Steve and my brother Mark, I started working part-time at a place called Advanced Systems in Measurement in Dover, NH, overlooking Cocheco Falls, while I was now living in Gorham, ME., about an hour away.  We scored, using a rubric, the standardized tests taken by children in grades four, eight and eleven from various states around the nation.  Coffee, reading, grading, more coffee, reading, grading, etc.  Not a bad deal.  Low-stress work for which we were paid a “competitive” wage.

In a shortened, 144-game season, the Mets finished just six games under .500, but manager Dallas Green was already on his way to destroying the arms of three fine young prospects:  Paul Wilson, Bill Pulsipher, and Jason Isringhausen (“Isringhausen”, it turns out, is German for “elbow inflammation.”)

1996-97:  Another year and a half at Advanced Systems.  By the late summer of ’97, I knew two things:  1)  I was going to start teaching again in the fall and 2)  I really liked the girl who kept approaching me to double-check the student papers she was scoring.  She would feign confusion over what to make of a particular paragraph written by a student so that she could come and visit me over at my table two or three times a day.

I was now “Table Leader” of a group of six people, surely the least impressive middle-management job in the nation.  For some reason, this young woman seemed to take a liking to me, and couldn’t quite figure out what to make of me, since I so obviously couldn’t care less about the job, yet seemed to take it reasonably seriously.  (This has been the undercurrent of a good portion of my adult life.)

Meanwhile in 1996, the Mets win their normal 71 games.  But in 1997, the year I go back to teaching, and, more importantly, begin dating my future wife, Christa, the Mets really begin turning things around.  The ’97 Mets, with Bobby Valentine at the helm (before he completely lost his Goddamned mind), turned it around with a respectable 88 wins.  Better years were ahead.

1998-2000:  Christa and I date for a couple of years, then I propose to her in a little park in the North End of Boston, and we are married in the fall of 1999.  We get ourselves a little apartment in Sanford, Maine, I nearly punch out my redneck neighbor who makes a pass at my wife, and we have one snowstorm that lasts three full days.  I’m a special education teacher at Gorham High School, and Christa is working at the University of New Hampshire in the computer lab.

It’s a good life, and we’re happy.  No kids yet, plenty of money, and enough time to have fun together.  My job as a special ed. teacher is extremely challenging, but I grow to love my kids.  We are saving money for a house, and looking forward to starting a family together.  It took me a hell of a long time to get to this point, but it was worth the wait.

The Mets again win 88 games in 1998, then accumulate an impressive 97 wins in 1999.  They make it to the playoffs in ’99, where they lose to the Braves, 4 games to 2.

In the year 2000, New York has its first Subway Series in many decades.  Unfortunately, only one team comes to play baseball, and it’s not the Mets.  The Mets win just a single game to the Yankees as ‘Roid Rage Roger Clemens throws a piece of broken bat at Mike Piazza after Piazza’s bat shatters and a piece of it nearly hits Clemens.  Piazza looks at Clemens as if Clemens has lost his mind.

If only Piazza had charged the mound that day, it might have lit a fire under the Mets collective asses.  Still, a trip to the World Series, and an N.L. Pennant does not a bad season make.  Who knew that from that day to this, the Mets would enjoy only one more trip to the playoffs (2006), and no more visits to the World Series?

Over the past dozen years, I have been a very fortunate man.  I taught at the high school level for a dozen years.  My own family has grown and prospered.  We moved from snows of Maine to relative warmth of South Carolina about three years ago.  While America has experienced horror upon horror over the past decade, one tragedy almost appearing to lead somehow to the next, I have settled into a middle-aged man’s emotional toolbox of  regret, bemusement, and acceptance over the things I’ve done, the things I’ve left undone, and the short time I may have left to do the things worth doing.

My family is my strength, and my reason for being.  I am thankful for the friends I’ve made, even for the ones I’ve lost along the way, and for the ones I’ve met through this blog.

Thank you, all of you, for reading, for caring just a bit, and for listening.

I hope this series has been worth reading.  It has been, in an unexpected way for me, a necessary and useful investment of time and energy which I intend never to repeat.

Cheers, Bill

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