Don’t Say It’s Over, Do Say It’s Amazin’

I make pronouncements about the Mets’ past. Their future is for everyone else to argue about. You say seven-game lead? I can speak of doleful precedents that no one wants to hear. And having grown up in the 1970s watching the Mets play like someone who’s been kicked in the head repeatedly, I do not count anything before it’s official. The 1999 season? One of my favorite years ever because of its rare redemptive quality: The Mets had a playoff spot wrapped up, screwed the pooch, and then stole it back by winning the last three games followed by a one-day playoff in Cincinnati. For my money, those are the best regular season Mets games ever played.

These three games against the Nationals, though… Wow! And completing the sweep on the 46th anniversary of the black cat stepping out on the Cubs at Shea Stadium in 1969. Purrrr-fect! Drew Storen looked spooked in Washington.

Even I had a hard time containing myself after the Mets got Yoenis Cespedes—was that really just six weeks ago? Even Terry Collins—not my favorite manager—has turned into Nostradamus. Pinch hit for Mets second-half turnaround poster boy Wilmer Flores? And the pinch hitter, Kelly Johnson, belts a game-tying home run in the eighth. Of course! And doing it off Stephen Strasburg, who looks like a team’s ace is supposed to look in a big game? Speaking of young stud aces…

Matt Harvey: I am still not on speaking terms with you. After letting you down for many, many starts, the Mets are picking you up after you let everyone down by not taking the high road. Or saying the right thing. Or shutting up. Or telling your agent to step the Francoeur back. But the Mets had your back this time. And I think whatever war chest the Mets had been piling up with the renewed interest in the team, may now be earmarked toward a Cuban outfielder who looks like a man who may just have found a home in the States. Remember Carlos Beltran when he was traded to the Astros and he tore the National League apart before he signed with the Mets? This is what it looked like. (Nice calls, Josh Lewin.)

Anyway, it’s not my job to get too far ahead or drift too far behind. I am getting ready for the playoffs! The New York-Penn League Class A playoffs for my summer job with the Tri-City Valley Cats in Troy. What did you think I was talking about?


Ushering in a New Era

I hate to start a long overdue post with a “sorry,” but it’s been a busy summer. It hasn’t, however, been one of those summers that’s suddenly gone before you realize it. Each day, at least on my end, has been monitored and checked off dutifully. I’ve watched each day go by, inning by inning, from a ballpark in a city that had National League success before New York. (The New York Mutuals, an amateur team turned pro and member of the National Association (1871-75), did not survive past the inaugural NL season of 1876.)

In 1879, when Providence had the National League’s best team, Troy, NY, had an NL franchise. They weren’t good, but they existed before most of the teams we know today, including the Giants, who took Troy’s spot in the NL in NY state, and took three of the Trojans’ future Hall of Famers: Buck Ewing, Roger Connor, and Mickey Welch. Many of the “little” eastern cities faded from the NL in the 1880s—besides Providence, teams from Buffalo, Syracuse, and Worcester came and went—but Troy still loves its baseball. I do, too. Another former NL club, the Houston Astros, operate the Tri-City Valley Cats in the Class A New York-Penn League. Tri-City (for those keeping score, it is the cities of Albany Troy, and Schenectady) is the jumping off point for players, many of them fresh out of college, into the world of professional ball. And it’s my place of pro baseball embarkation, and probably my lone stop. I always wanted to work for a pro team, and this is as close as I will get. I am in service relations, or more succinctly, an usher. I have tried to do a good job. Whenever I wonder what I should do, I just think of rude treatment received from Mets ushers through the years, and I’ve just done the opposite. It has worked, for the most part.

It has been a great summer. And having started a 9-5 job as well, I have spent many evenings driving an hour up to Troy as soon as I get off work, eating in the car, listening to books on CD. (I especially enjoyed this big one.) And then I get to the park and assume my small part in professional baseball. And they have spent much of this summer in first place.

The Mets’ NY-Penn club from Brooklyn arrives—if you find yourself in the mists of time in Troy, stop in at the Joe. Section 150. We keep an eye on how the Mets are doing in New York, too.

And on a night off in Troy I was off to New York to see the Mets and Red Sox. It was a 29-year reunion of a brief, bloody war between two allies in the never ending war against Yankeeism. To me it is like I have been reliving 1986 every day, as I am in the process of editing One Year Dynasty, now available for pre-order. (Actually this is my first look at the subtitle. Comments welcome.)

And while Mets-Red Sox refueled thoughts of a glorious past beyond the lifespan of more than half of the people in the park Friday night, it was like breathing life into an NL franchise that seemed as dead as the Troy Trojans until a few weeks ago. I have been to several dozen games in the life of Citi Field, and I have never seen it brim with life like it did of a Friday night in late August. Every time the Mets take the field at Citi Field now, it is the most significant game they have ever played there. Even the waving of T-shirts on Free Shirt Friday, the waving of such in headier days at Shea Stadium sent me into diatribes like—“maybe that works in Providence or Worcester, but not in New York”—but on this night I was seeing something I had not seen before at Citi: The loading of the bandwagon. The people who might have worn Red Sox—or Yankees—shirts on other Fridays in Flushing, wore their new Mets T shirts proudly over whatever else they were wearing, or waved them in hopes of another walk to another Met. New, crisp Mets hats were creased, or left flat as a pancake. It was the end of a seven-game winning streak, but the continuation of and a lead that, at that moment, at least, could be counted on more than one hand was embraced, cherished.

Who knows what the future will bring? Will Murph be back? Will Cespedes be a Met after 2015? Will the Mets be able to scratch up the cash to keep their stud pitchers around for Free Shirt Fridays in the years to come? Will I have to write an addendum to One-Year Dynasty based on 2015? I don’t know the answer to any of this.

Right now is living history, a captivating novel whose ending you just can’t picture. I like novels as much as I do history. I especially like novels that turn into history. I just hope I’m not disappointed in the ending. It has me captivated right now. And I can’t wait until the next chapter.


Don’t Worry, Baby

I took the time to call out Sandy Alderson last week for letting great pitching go to waste, even after he picked up Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson, so I need to say he has stepped up with the acquisition of Tyler Clippard and—after making me (and all of franctic Metdom) insane by not pulling the trigger on Carlos Gomez due to concerns about the former Met’s hip—picked up the slugger the Mets have been needing since Carlos Delgado’s hip gave out on him a few weeks after Citi Field opened.

Having gone over the moon—and yes, that is Keith Moon singing Beach Boys in our title link—for American League stars Carlos Bearga and Roberto Alomar and being proved very wrong, I won’t say too much. Yoenis Cespedes (I spelled it right the first time without looking!) has impressed me with the way he plays ever since I saw him three straight nights in Oakland when I was there gathering quotes and intel for Swinging ’73 during his rookie season in 2012. Cuban refugee athletes seem to be a volatile group on the whole because they have been through so much more than I think I could endure. Just to get to this country they have to leave behind family and friends, escape by tricking a totalitarian government, and then embrace the kind of decadent lifestyle Cuban handlers always preached against. And then there is the curve ball, not mention the language barrier.

I “studied” French for four years in high school and never mastered much beyond a few weeks speaking coherently in Luxembourg when everything clicked—but that was so long ago Davey Johnson had yet to manage his first game and I am now not sure exactly what the “Je Me Souviens” Quebecois license plates say that fly by me on the New York Turnpike. Oh, I remember, but I have not been to a foreign country—besides said Canada—in 20 years, but speaking for all Americans who couldn’t spell “chat” if you spotted them the C and the A (how about the H to keep it sporting for the kitties out there?), I welcome Cespedes to the Mets lineup. Because we all speak offense. And conversation has been stilted.

I do not know if the Mets have traded the next John Smoltz in the past week, but I will say at this point I am happy to be rooting in the present. The Mets, and all of us, have been living so long in the past and the future, it’s just good to be here right now—even if we can’t take heartbreak. You’d think we’d be good at that emotion by now. Don’t cry, Wilmer. You walk off stud—we always loved you! We have seen the future. And Keith Moon says everything will turn out all right.


Baseball Maverick? Open for Interpretation

In this combination book review and front office editorial, I am going to critique both Steve Kettmann’s recent book about Sandy Alderson and the Sandman himself (disclaimer: he is not called Sandman in the book, but do not let that influence your purchasing decision). Alderson has had a long and varied career. He has graduated both Dartmouth and Harvard, been a Marine officer, Vietnam veteran, corporate lawyer, world championship general manager in Oakland, MLB chief executive of baseball operations, the CEO who brought in the fences in San Diego, MLB Latin American coordinator, and finally, off what had to be some kind of a bender, he decided to come to New York to take over the Mets in the fall of 2010.

I was doing the Mets Annual at the time and there was so much said about how wonderful a move it was going to be and the Mets were going to build the right way, from the ground up. Some of his trades of veterans for prospects have gone from highly-criticized to brilliant maneuvers in short order—his R.A. Dickey to Toronto for Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard is up there with the fleecing of the Blue Jays of John Olerud in the 1996 offseason. But what the Mets really need right now is a Johnny O. They need a game changer in the middle of the lineup, not just for this year but for however long this window of opportunity is open for the Mets—or will be allowed to remain open by ownership. The money part is not his fault—the Wilpons never even uttered the name “Madoff” in their interview with him in 2010. There are plenty of other things that are Alderson’s fault.

Just look at Friday night’s game against the Dodgers, at which I was, unfortunately, in attendance. The wives of both of Friday night’s starting pitchers, Jon Niese and Zack Grienke, had babies that night. Grienke was in California for the birth. Niese was in the bowels of Citi Field watching it on FaceTime after being rocked by the Dodgers. L.A.’s emergency starter, Ian Thomas, who looks a lot like Clayton Kershaw facially and the way he handles the Mets, pitched great. The Mets emergency starter, Carlos Torres, pitched three superb innings—only they came in mop up after Niese missed both the chance for a win and to see the birth of his second child.

As GM this is what you do: You tell Niese congratulations and inform him he’ll pitch in the new Dad Sunday special against Grienke and then have a PR lackey escort him 10 minutes to the airport. You take the high road. You do the right thing and maybe you pull out as unlikely win as happened last Sunday when the Mets won Niese’s start 18 innings after it began. Apparently, Alderson was too involved scooping up the unwanted debris from the Braves bench (Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson) to have taken a leadership position, and you can’t expect Terry Collins to make a decision that comes out right.

One of the revelations of former San Francisco Chronicle beat writer Steve Kettmann’s well-researched book on Alderson, is that the “Baseball Maverick” himself actually thought about firing Terry Collins last summer. He did not. It leads to me to a quote about Alderson from the author that is both impressive and frightening: “A Marine never retreats.” You’d think that facing overwhelming odds and after slowing the enemy, retreat would be possible if the other option was complete annihilation. And not to mix my war and baseball metaphors, but the Mets are on the verge of being completely overrun. Their skeleton crew cannot hold off a superior force, which is pretty much any team with a pulse, and Colonel Collins needs to be relieved of command if they plan to keep this hill of contention.

If Alderson and the Mets aren’t careful, a season that has featured some of the best Mets pitching I have seen since the mid-1980s will be washed away amid the increasing number of shutouts—not by the Mets’ overpowering staff, but by the opposition throwing up zeroes on this creampuff lineup. The Mets have been blanked 11 times in their first 96 games, and that doesn’t even count Niese’s start against in St. Louis where his team was held scoreless for the first 13 innings before they somehow scraped together a win in 18.

I will bypass the author—whom, I will add, did not write this book with Alderson, other than talking to him dozens of times—and I will speak to the GM directly. Sandy Alderson, you have built up an impressive résumé getting to this point, but it won’t mean diddley in terms of New Yorkers or anyone else if the Mets go down in flames and continue to be the worst offensive team with the best pitching. (Baseball-reference’s simple rating system lists the Mets as the 22nd best team in baseball. However that is derived, it can’t be good.)

If the Mets continue to languish, or make excuses about playing the tougher teams (imagine who they’d play if God took pity on us, and Sandy, and randomly tossed the Mets into October), or if the team does not take advantage of the lousy division and the lousy way Washington has played, then it shouldn’t just be the roster or the manager’s office that needs shaking up.

You need to do something substantial that does not gut your future but assures it. You need to put your signature on a prospects for veterans deal like you have the veterans for prospects deals that have been your forte in New York. You need to do something before this season gets away. A baseball maverick would.


First Half Grades Are In

In this, my 40th year following the Mets, I have seen a team that reminds me a lot of that first team I ardently watched in 1975: great pitching, abysmal hitting, though the ’75 crew at least had Dave Kingman slugging home runs and Yogi Berra managing. Never a huge fan of Yogi, but even my fourth grade self would concur that he had a lot less reason to be fired than Terry Collins. I’ll save my summation of Collins for the end. But while it’s hanging there let me say this: If you are going to play all these 2-1 and 1-0 games, you need a manager who can occasionally steal such games by making good decisions. Yanking Jacob deGrom at 99 pitches after retiring 15 in a row and then letting Noah Syndergaard throw 116 pitches in the next game makes absolutely no sense. So much for not saying much here about T.C.

The Mets enter the All-Star break on a 7-2 surge, but they entered the break with an 8-2 push last year and it did not end in glory. If they score four runs they win. And they average 3.48 per game, second worst in baseball, and only two runs behind the Phillies for that distinction. Imagine if the Mets played in the DH league? They’d have no offense since their pitchers are some of their most consistent batters. They must find more hitters. And they must find who they can afford to get rid of. Squandering this pitching would be worse than squandering being 10 games over .500 just 16 games into the year, as this team already did. They must play better on the road. They ended the first half one game out of the second wild card. One game behind the Cubs, a team they inexplicably went 0-7 against. They are just 8-15 vs. the Central, but are tied with Washington for most wins in the NL East (23-15) and trail the Nationals by two games. Enough! To the grading.

To be included, players must accrue 50 at bats or 15 innings pitched. This prevents Stephen Matz, Logan Verrett, Bobby Parnell, Jack Leatherstich, Rafael Montero, Buddy Carlyle, Jerry Blevins, Akeel Morris, Jenrry Mejia, Johnny Monell, and Danny Muno from getting grades. Hopefully all the pitchers will qualify for a writeup at year’s end. And the hitters get replaced by people who can hit. David Wright deserves a writeup because the end may be near. But right now the only end is the first half.

First-half 2014 Report Card

Jacob deGrom     A       Not the best stuff on staff, but deGrom performs, perseveres, and adjusts. Good job, All-Star.

Jeurys Familia      A       Should be All-Star and first half MVP. Stepped up for Mejia. He’s reason they have winning record.

Noah Syndergaard   A-       As good as advertised. If only Mets could score for him or bat him cleanup. Best. Shrug. Ever.

Matt Harvey        B+      Harvey could learn a lot from kids. Like how to shut up and pitch. Harvey has the mojo, though.

Bartolo Colon       B+     Said it last year, I’ll say it again: Bartolo is entertaining and effective. Good role model, batting star.

Jonathon Niese     B       I love how Matz has higher WAR in just 2 starts than Niese in a whole season. Jonny Trade Bait.

Sean Gilmartin      B       Has great numbers, but I don’t trust him. Maybe I’ve only seen his bad games. Good Rule V guy.

Wilmer Flores       B       An offensive guy on the list. Finally. But if Wilmer he does not play shortstop, he is not as valuable.

Daniel Murphy      B-      I don’t believe Murph will be here after 2015, but with Wright, who knows? They need any hitter.

Travis d’Arnaud     C+    He is getting a reputation as constantly hurt player. Mets need him to catch or they’ll go nowhere.

Curtis Granderson     C+     A .119 average vs. LHP; .163 BA in July. Walks and hits solo HRs. Can’t believe 2 1/2 more years.

Eric Goeddell         C+     Thought former UCLA stud was out of the system and here he is excelling at Citi, when not hurt.

Lucas Duda          C       Stop swinging at pitches in the dirt! Let them walk you. Not your fault Cuddyer bats behind you.

Michael Cuddyer    C       Must be good clubhouse because he’s bad middle of order. Poor use of limited resources, Sandy.

Juan Lagares        C       Has taken a step back on defense and offense. Hope it’s just the elbow; hope it will one day heal.

Kevin Plawicki        C       I like a kid who is from Purdue, is a hard worker, and plays through vertigo. But he needs to hit.

Carlos Torres        C       Lucky his arm ddn’t fall off in 2014 from TC abuse. Manager runs CT out there despite results.

Alex Torres           C      Like Carlos, you don’t know which Torres will come out of pen. Hard to trust, but good when on.

Ruben Tejada       C-     If Tejada is your regular SS, you are not playoff team. Even front office hates him, yet he stays.

Dilson Herrera       D+    Got in a slump, but gets on base and can play defense. Problems would be solved if he played SS.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis    D+     A year ago he had B- at ASG. I thought he should play LF. This year he had F till 3 HR Sunday.

Darrel Ceciliani        D+    Not a fan. It’s nice to have speed, but I’d rather have Nieuwy, with the K’s and sudden power.

Anthony Recker     D      Another guy stuck in Vegas. Can’t hit, but which Met can? Brings chance of power every 4 days.

Hansel Robles        D      You know Mets are getting better when their bad relievers look like him. Familia started slow, too.

John Mayberry      D-     Won a game with extra-inning hit and his dad was a KC stud. Other than that he’s been worthless.

Eric Campbell         D-     Can you believe EC was hitting .340 at 2014 ASG? Looked great during April run, abysmal since.

Dillon Gee              F      I’ve always liked Gee, but on a team with these young studs, Mets can’t carry his 5.90 ERA.

David Wright          Inc    Will he ever play again/be any good again? That may sound alarmist some day, but not now.

Manager/GM

Terry Collins          C-        Players like him, but he’s outlived his usefulness here. It is time to win and he’s not the man.

Sandy Alderson      C+       Gets an A+ for the pitching and an F for the offense. As if moving in the fences would solve it.


Letter to the Met-idor

It has been hard getting things up on the site because I started two new jobs recently and have been trying to finish editing
my upcoming book on the 1986 Mets, which I know you will love. But the day after Steven Matz debuted I got this great
note that I just have to share. I have not been getting much else site related mail of late—so see if you can help with that.

Short as this piece is, time has been even shorter and it was a race to get it up on the site before Matz pitched again. And
who knows how many more times he will pitch before we get a follow up post. Maybe the Mets will even give us something
to write about that is positive in terms of solid all around play.

As it stands, I quote the first coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers John McVay, when it comes to the Mets lineup’s
execution—I think it’s a good idea.

Let’s Go Matz
Dear Met,
May have to change the name of your site to matzsilverman.com!
Jim Humiston,
Queenbury, NY

Jim,
I like the way you think, friend.
Another good young pitcher isn’t news for the Mets, a guy who can drive in four runs--in a month--is news. He roped that
first ball farther than any Met with runners on base has in an eternity. Terry Collins had just been whining lamenting that
he had put on seven hit-and-runs and none had worked, and Matz did it the first time.

The third hit he got that drove in two runs--the four RBI were the most by a pitcher in his debut in a century, and it
almost killed his grandpa he was so verklempt in the suite. Nice for a boy from Long Island to make good with the
hometown team. Now they can bat him cleanup when he’s not pitching so they can protect Lucas Duda.

With a name like Matz he was born to be a Met. And he missed being the 1,000th Met in history by one. But I think he
got the fanfare like the balloons and shopping spree for the 1,000th shopper at a local super market. The Little Debbie
Crumb Cakes are on meactually they’re on Michael Cuddyer, whose father delivered them.

I would feel more confident with Matz in left field.

Comebackers

You know, I hadn’t been to a game besides Opening Day, but I went to see Toronto, something I have done their other three times to New York. Since the Mets haven’t lost to them in Flushing, I hadn’t seen them lose in 1997, 1999, and 2001. (So much for a regulated interleague schedule, MLB.)

Because there was rain on the way down and rain in the forecast, my friends decided not to go when I was halfway down, so I met them for dinner on the Connecticut border, figuring I’d go by myself once the rain delay ended. Only there was no rain delay. It went off as scheduled and then after watching rapid-fire marksman Mark Buehrle be perfect game through three innings on TV, I took off for Flushing. Noah Syndergaard wasn’t perfect, but he was close. I feel sorry for ump Marty Foster, who got clocked by a foul ball, but the extended delay helped me get to my seat by the time Lucas Duda doubled for the first hit of the game in the fifth inning. It would not be his last double.

One thing I enjoy about being there is seeing the positioning, which you don’t get when watching on TV with all the closeups and fan shots. My friends could not make it, but they bought good seats, in the same area where the announcers are stationed, so you could really see how everything set up on the field. The way positioning is done in the game today, being able to see the field is more important than ever. I am older and do not go to the 20-plus games I went to with these same buddies in the 1980s and 1990s, but I still feel like I miss something watching at home instead of being in the park. It ain’t football. Thank God.

Monday’s game had everything, including my usual fit about the over-managing of Terry Collins. Another four-out save? Really? The only day the guy hasn’t pitched in the last four was his first day as a father. No surprise that ex-Mets farmhand Jose Bautista (remember how the Mets just had to get Kris Benson in 2004?) went deep twice. Or that Toronto was poised to set a franchise record with its 12th straight win, but Duda beat the shift with a ball that would have been an easy pop up if the outfield was aligned normally and then Wilmer Flores banged the winning single up the middle. The untold story, though, is Ruben Tejada. Yes, he broke the tie in the sixth with a double, but with the Mets trailing in the 11th he drew a walk. On a(nother) lousy at bat by Michael Cuddyer, Tejada stopped between first and second—the first savvy baseball play I’ve seen him make in two years—which slowed down Toronto just enough so they couldn’t turn a game-ending double play. His play was forgotten—as was the bad managing—and the praises sung were for Mrs. Flintstone.


Meet the Mad Met Men

I feel I can speak to this here because, well, it’s my site, and the Mets infiltrated the office of Sterling Cooper with Draper and Pryce becoming unexpected Mets fans in the days before the Mets were even remotely close to pennant contention. And I would like to think that in one of the many Matt Weiner endgame scenarios, stretched out another decade, there is one where Don Draper comes up with “The Magic Is Back,” while freelancing for Jerry Della Femina. Or maybe that could be the pilot for the After M*A*S*H spinoff featuring Harry, Stan, and Peggy.

The first time I saw Mad Men was during the 2007 playoffs. I was watching the Cubs get swept by the Diamondbacks in the Division Series, saying, “God, how I wish this was the Mets getting smoked.” But of course they’d blown a big lead and lost on the last day. Bored, I turned the channel and I saw that JFK was about to be elected president and everyone in this New York office found the idea repugnant. And then two Dons were in Korea. I kind of like the contrary opinion, and that’s what Mad Men was. Though I was never a Nixon man, or even boy.

Mad Men also served as a glimpse into my lost subconscious. These were the years I missed, although I was there. I was born about the same time as baby Gene: no grandparents, out of touch with what my older siblings were up to, and just wanting to be included—and failing that, to watch television. Black and white was fine, the color TV in my parents’ room was for special occasions, like Tiny Tim’s wedding. I still don’t get it.

But I got Mad Men. It was like it was written for me, at least the set up. The blonde model mother and the commuting father wearing those Alpine fedoras, American cars, beer in a can, brown liquor, everyone smoking, and kids dismissed with the wave of a hand. I had great parents. My mother was beautiful but, unlike Betty Draper, she did have a heart. My dad commuted but—and I’m pretty sure about this—he was not a serial philanderer. We lived in a suburb where I would feel uncomfortable living today but I still visit in my dreams.

I could visit that place every week, when Mad Men was on, which was never enough. The Sopranos, another Matt Weiner effort, was great for a few years and then became a chore that I watched out of obligation. Boardwalk Empire, written by another Sopranos alum, was good, but it reached its peak too early and there was a whole season of filler that made me glad when they wrapped the show up. In The Sopranos, and a little bit in Boardwalk Empire, every time a new character was introduced, I’d think, “Gee, I wonder how this guy gets killed.” With Mad Men every episode, every character had something to say. And it was like life, people came and went. And when it too left the building the last time Sunday night, I was content and a little sad.

There is one bone I have to pick with the show: the Drapers’s dog. Listen, Mr. Weiner, we had dogs in the 1960s, too, and you either had one or you didn’t. The Draper dog was around for a couple of episodes—I don’t know if it had a name but it might as well have been Tiger because it was handled even less smoothly than a show actually made during that era: The Brady Bunch, which had a couple of episodes featuring the dog and then it was gone without a word. (In reality, Tiger died between seasons and they brought in another dog that only freaked out the kids, so they cut out Tiger.) But the Drapers had a dog early on and then there were tons of episodes when it wasn’t in the house and then it appeared wagging its tail as Don wandered the house one night. Even in the 1960s the dogs ruled the house, or at least we walked around the poop in the middle of the living room because out of four kids, no one took Topper out. Or maybe Betty shot their dog in the back yard one afternoon when the Valium ran out. Weiner did use dogs to unforgettable effect in one episode. Duck Phillips was a sumbitch ad executive and a recovered alcoholic, which happened in a world where people drank all day and called it work. When he goes around the bend and the dog cries for him to stop drinking, Duck abandons his beloved Irish Setter onto the street on Madison Avenue so he can go up to his office to drink his face off. That stays with you, as did so much in Mad Men. But like Mad Men I should go now, I need to take the dogs out.


Watching the Game

In Judy Lynn (née Van Sickle) Johnson’s memoir on growing up with baseball, I expected a lot of baseball, but as in life, there is more. A lot more. The tale of a preacher’s daughter coming of age in the 1960s—and an affiliation with a very Dutch background—surprised me. A lot of things surprised me about this book, and that’s a good thing. If you read a book that is exactly the way you expect it to be, well, that doesn’t teach you anything, or take you outside your comfort zone.

Judy, raised a New Jersey girl, is an English professor, graduate of Mount Holyoke College with a PhD in English literature from Brown, who formerly taught at several boarding schools. I came upon her work during the Hofstra Mets Conference, the father of the now annual Queens Baseball Conference. The New Yorker took notice, too.

Watching the Game: Meditations from a Woman’s Heart is a fine book by someone who knows how to write, who sees the poetry between spaces of words like the poetry between pitches, when the game is moving like it should and the air is filled with anticipation. She ties the act of sitting in the stands with something deeper, because we all know it is. Johnson is a dedicated fan, no, student of the game, dedicated enough to get broadsided by a car on the way back from a Cape Cod League game and still think about getting back there as soon as possible. This book will make you leave the phone in the car (or at least buried in your pocket or purse, where it belongs) and appreciate where you are. You never know when you’ll run into someone who is at their first game, or their last. Make every pitch count. Watch the game!

This Mother’s Day—or if Mom isn’t quite into baseball to this degree, this Father’s Day—Watching the Game makes a great gift. It’s like the gift of baseball, only you can read it during a long rain delay.


Greg Spira Award Winners

We interrupt this—as Channel 11 used to say in promos when a team no one expected anything from was playing well—“surprising” New York Mets start to bring you the announcement of the winners for the third annual Greg Spira Award. Well, actually the announcement is here.

Congratulations to Lewis Pollis ($1,000 first place for his piece on paying front office talent), Cee Angi ($200 second place for her profile on the great Vin Scully), and Rob Arthur ($100 third place on the sounds that the bat makes and what it means). Given the state of freelancer remuneration today, all recipients were especially happy to hear the news. You can read the winners on the link, and if this sounds good to you, and you are under 30 years of age, just have a baseball piece published or presented containing original analysis or research. The piece must be published (online or paper) between January 16 of this year and January 15, 2016.

Greg Spira was a solid colleague, a good friend, and a great Mets fan. He hated games in poor weather, but he might have even ventured to an April game to see this Mets start in person. He died from kidney disease in 2011. He would have been 48 today.