Saturday, May 24, 2008

#16 is Online (I Can't Believe I Got It Done That Quickly!)

Look to your right to access all the articles from our latest print issue. Or click here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Mike, Keith and Willie

Apparently I missed quite a doozy of a night from Keith according to my friend Jason. Honestly, when the game was delayed, I decided I'd be better off watching a DVD of a friend's gig (which I guested at) and the Family Guy marathon on TBS. That's how much I don't like this team of old, overpaid, overachievers--even the promise of the trio after a rain delay was not enough to make we turn away from Stewie and Brian.

Speaking of old, Mike Piazza finally hung it up. The last part of his statement makes me think he'll go into the hall as a Met:

“I have to say that my time with the Mets wouldn’t have been the same without the greatest fans in the world. One of the hardest moments of my career was walking off the field at Shea Stadium and saying goodbye. My relationship with you made my time in New York the happiest of my career, and for that, I will always be grateful.”

No Mike, we're grateful we had you. And the Wilpons don't retire your number, someone's gonna have some explaining to do.

Lastly, Willie Randolph is acting like a man soon to be fired, which could happen even though he's supposed to coach at the All-Star game at Yankee Stadium. Even if he's replaced, I can't imagine devoting time to this team. I haven't felt that way since I moved to Brooklyn 13 years ago. And I have a feeling I'm not alone.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Tide Has Turned

Who knew that it would take a game where a no hitter went into the 7th inning and then imploded to bring most of the media and tons of blogs around to the cause of replacing Willie Randolph? If the Yanks win two out of three this weekend, the ax might fall and the season might be saved.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Zisk # 16 is in the Mail!

The first copies went out yesterday, with all of them sent to subscribers by the end of this week. Wait until you see the cover pic.

Friday, May 02, 2008

I've Been Quiet, Thinking, and I'd Like to Third That

Not much of the usual Mets season blogging going on in these parts. Not because I haven't watch or listened to games (I have missed a few here and there) or due to my medical issues (I am doing great and feel the best I have in three years, thanks for asking) or working on the next print issue (which will be sent out starting May 12th).

Nope, I've been thinking about what I've seen on the field and in the papers, and today I said it out loud for the first time to my co-worker Doug.

Then five minutes later I read Jason at Faith in Fear in Flushing's post from this morning.

Then one minute later I read Tim Marchman's column, and I felt good that other sane Mets fans were thinking the same way.

I hate to say it, but I'd like to third that notion.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Zisk # 16



I Think We Need Some Pepto in Queens by Steve Reynolds

In The Pink by Dr. Nancy Golden

Leap Year and Baseball: Lena Blackburne, Your Name is Mud by John Shiffert

Clemens Laments by Jake Austen

The Zisk Interview: Bill Monbouquette by Mike Faloon

Sutton, The Garv and Me...The Reggie Smith Story by Tim Hinely

The Zisk Book Corner by Steve Reynolds

Peace in the NL East by Mike Faloon

Curse of the Great Giambi by Mark Hughson

I Think We Need Some Pepto in Queens by Steve Reynolds

“Someday we’ll look back on this and it will all seem funny.” —Bruce Springsteen

The above line from the classic rock staple “Rosalita” caught my ear the other day. I’d been listening to Springsteen’s The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle at my desk as a small tribute to keyboardist Danny Federici, who had died the day before after a long battle with melanoma. And I almost wanted to stop my iTunes because what I was thinking was not a way to remember the man and his organ riffs. I was thinking something much, much worse. And I was thinking it about the New York Mets of the past 18 months, the ones that choked away an NLCS and a division title in that brief time period. My thought?

What if we look back on this and it will all seem NOT funny—only incredibly painful?

It’s a cruel idea to put into one’s own head about your favorite sports team. But as I write this paragraph, the last two days the print media and WFAN have been hashing and rehashing whether or not struggling first baseman Carlos Delgado—a man who has taken only two curtain calls in his entire career, and both were for actual historic events—dissed all of Shea Stadium by not coming out for a one on Sunday April 27th. And the whole hubbub is so idiotic it makes me wonder, what the heck happened? Why do I have this nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach whenever I turned on 660 on my A.M. dial? And why is my head hurting whenever I watch highlights on SNY at night?

I sit back and realize I’ve had similar feelings before—but they’ve usually preceded by some sort of booze in large quantities.

Then it struck me: I had a Mets hangover.

It made total sense! The gamut of feelings I’ve run through on various Saturday and Sunday (and sometimes Friday) mornings have been replicated by the past 180 or so games on the Amazin’s schedule. Regret? Check. Anger? Yup. Remorse? For sure. Irrational outbursts where I wanted to punch my bedroom wall? Ouch, but yes. A pain that will only go away by laying down for six hours straight while watching a Family Guy marathon? Yes sir.

Now if it was just me that had this hangover, it would be no problem. I’ve already let most of the 2008 season go by without blogging it on the Zisk website. Sure, I’ve had health problems to deal with as the season began. But as I’ve started my exercise program, I have not once taken my little A.M. receiver so I could check in on the Mets. And that would be the perfect chance to catch up with Howie Rose. I’ve even not turned on games on Sunday afternoons when I’ve been home—and tried avoid watching day games at work, where I’d basically be getting paid for rooting for John Maine!

But all my transgressions seem minor compared to the rest of the Flushing faithful. Simple put, Mets fans are pissed. They’re venting on the airwaves, to members of the media and lord, lordy, lordy, they’re writing vicious things on Met fans sites everywhere. Basically the fanbase needs about 100 doses of stadium sized Advil to make this feeling go away. And even then, I fear it might not. Perhaps the one amazing season of 2006 (and the trade for Johan Santana) has set fans expectations so high that nothing less than a championship will do. (I’d call this the Yankee-ization of the Mets fanbase.) And that saddens me. Baseball is supposed to be fun and, at times, healing. And right now it is most certainly not for tens of thousand of people, and that’s is wearing off on me. Heck, I even booed when Scott Schoeneweis was brought into the first game I saw this season. This isn’t like me. And it’s making me worry.

My friend Jason Fry at Faith and Fear in Flushing and I not only share a love of The Figgs, beer, and the Hoodoo Gurus, but we also shared very similar feelings about the Mets last summer long before they collapsed. He wrote a great paragraph about this year’s team that I feel compelled to share with you here:

“By too many indications this is the same badly constructed, poorly led, sadly complacent team I came to thoroughly dislike last year. Last summer I found out something I pretty much knew anyway, and would happily have gone to my grave never having confirmed: It's no fun disliking your favorite team.”

I hate to say it, but this hangover has me thinking the same thing. I think I would feel better if it seemed as though someone else besides David Wright cared. From all appearances, no one else does. To wit here’s some choice clippings from the National League’s highest payroll:

“We as a team play hard and want to win more than [the fans] do. [Umm, usually it doesn’t look like it.] That’s why I don’t understand the mentality. I guess they have a right to express themselves.” —Willie Randolph

“If you’re just booing for ridiculous reasons, you just let them look like idiots and go about your business.” —Billy Wagner

“I don’t really want to care about the fans anymore. If they want to boo, let them boo. I’m not going to take them out to dinner.” —Scott Schoeneweis

That’s right, the feeling has become mutual—and Scott’s not going to treat us to Frostys at Wendys! How did it come to pass that within just a season plus this love affair between the Mets and their fans has turned into a sideshow deserving of its own episode of Jerry Springer?

Oh, wait, I know why. Because this team still seems to be very full of themselves:

“The collapse didn't come because the Phillies beat us, the collapse came because we played bad. The Phillies didn't—I don't know how to say this—it wasn't like they beat us. A lot of times we beat ourselves, defense or just not doing things [we'd] done all year.” —Billy Wagner, the opening weekend of the season

Cripes, the 1986 team was totally full of themselves, but at least they had some gusto to back it up. This bunch, I don’t think they would know what gusto means even if I pointed it out in a dictionary.

I didn’t sit down to write a piece that had any big solutions to the Mets problems. For all I know there are none until next season when some more contracts will be off the books. All I know is that during the darkest days of the Art Howe or Joe Torre eras, it never felt this bad.

As Springsteen once sang, “Glory days, well they’ll pass you by.” I hope this time it isn’t true.

Leap Year And Baseball: Lena Blackburne, Your Name Is Mud by John Shiffert

While it’s true that Christmas comes but once a year, February 29 comes a lot less often, like once every four years, thanks largely to Pope Gregory XIII. No relation to 1950s American League outfielder Dave Pope, Gregory was the guy who created the Gregorian calendar, putting February 29 forever in place to soak up that extra .2425 of a day that builds up every year because the Earth’s trip around the sun refuses to settle in at exactly 365 days. So, while February 29 may not be unique, it is unusual and thus it seems appropriate to recall some of the more unusual happenings in baseball history associated with Leap Year Day.

Lena Blackburne was one. He not only died on Feb. 29, 1968 in Riverside, New Jersey, he lived by the riverside. The Delaware River, that is. Near where Rancocas Creek (pronounced “CRIK” for those of you not from the area) runs into the Delaware. You see, outside of the fact that his real name was Russell Aubrey Blackburne, and not Lena (why would a baseball player want to use a nickname like “Lena?”), Blackburne was a pretty ordinary utility infielder, primarily for the White Sox in the years around World War 1. Anyone with a career .214/.284/.268 batting line for 550 games is pretty ordinary. It was Blackburne’s post-playing career that made him interesting. Yes, the pride of Clifton Heights, Pa., managed the White Sox for a year-and-half in the late 20s, served as a coach for the Browns and Athletics in the 30s, and scouted for the latter team in the 40s and 50s, but a lot of old players have been baseball lifers. What made old Lena special is what he found down by the Delaware River after his playing days. Mud. Lots of mud. While this may not come as a surprise to anyone who has wandered along the shores of the Delaware (or any other river), this was no ordinary mud. It was “Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud.” Mud that would take the slippery sheen off of new baseballs, but leave them still a pristine white. Mud that has been rubbed onto every single major league baseball for some 50 years, an enduring legacy way past Feb. 29, 1968. Lena Blackburne, your name is mud.

A few years before Blackburne’s death, say 132 years before, a boy was born on February 29, 1836 in Brooklyn. And there’s a small tale associated with him. He must have been a small baby, because he grew up to stand just 5’ 3”, making him just about the smallest major leaguer this side of Eddie Gaedel and Cub Stricker. But, make no mistake about it, Richard J. “Dickey” Pearce was a major leaguer, and a major influence on the development of the game. He is, in fact, one of the game’s earliest players who has been sadly overlooked by the Hall of Fame. If you look at his statistics for his play in the National Association and the National League, he doesn’t stand out very much, a .252/.270/.276 batting line. But, do the math, he was 40 years old (though he’d only celebrated 10 birthdays) when the National League started in 1876. Way past his prime. Dickey Pearce’s prime started in the 1850s. In 1857, Peace was part of the first year of the National Association of Base Ball Players. Playing shortstop for the fabled Brooklyn Atlantics, he was one of the best hitters in the NABBP that first season of organized baseball play, tallying the third-most runs (28 in nine games – the Atlantics went 7-1-1) in the NABBP. But, that wasn’t why Dickey Pearce should be in the Hall of Fame. You see, Dickey Pearce wasn’t just a shortstop, he invented the modern shortstop position. Prior to Mr. Pearce, the shortstop was just that – an extra man that played halfway into the outfield (sort of like a softball shortfielder) who acted as a relay man between the outfield and the infield. The base balls of the 1850s were so light that you couldn’t throw them very far, hence, a relay man was needed to get the ball back to the infield with dispatch. Pearce apparently got the bright idea that he could play in that hole between second and third base, scooping up any ground balls that came his way, and still be able to scoot into the outfield as needed to be a relay man. If indeed fame can be defined as causing or making a paradigm shift in a sport (hello, Babe), then Dickey Pearce should rightfully be famous.

Of course, Dickey Pearce is far from the only 19th Century ballplayer neglected by the Hall of Fame. One of the more egregious oversights in this area was finally rectified on Feb. 29, 2000, when Bid McPhee was voted into the Hall, just 57 years too late for the finest second baseman of the 19th Century to enjoy the honor. A slightly-better-than-average hitter (career OPS+ of 106, led his league in triples and home runs once each), McPhee was sort of the Bill Mazeroski of his era. (Actually, he was a much better hitter than Maz, whose career OPS+ was just 84.) His forte was fielding, and he did it without a glove for most of his career. A very rare 19th Century player in that he played his entire career with one team (Cincinnati), McPhee’s 18-year major league career was marked by an incredible set of fielding numbers, in an era when good fielding was far more important (because it was so difficult to be a really good fielder) than it is today. Of his 2131 games, only five were spent at a position other than second base (an incredibly rare feat for any player), where he posted a .944 fielding percentage, a remarkable 25 points above the league average. And, when he finally decided to use a glove, in 1896, his fielding percentage at second jumped from .955 to .978 at the age of 36, setting a single season record for his position that lasted for 29 years. (Some sources claim he was the last player to take the field without wearing a glove, but this is untrue.) His range factor wasn’t bad, either, a 6.33 as compared to the league’s 5.72. So why wasn’t he elected to the Hall until 57 years after he died? He still holds the records for career and single season putouts by a second baseman. Seems McPhee made the bad career move of playing the first half of his career in the American Association… an organization almost completely ignored by the various Veterans Committees over the years. In fact, McPhee was arguably the first AA star to ever be elected to the Hall as a player.

A much better career move was made by first baseman Howie “Steeple” Schultz. A move that was recognized on February 29, 1944, when he was turned down by the military at a time when World WarII was requiring almost anyone who could walk to join up. Howie Schultz was just over six-and-a-half feet tall, which made him a good target at first base, but too tall for the military’s height restrictions at the time. As a result Schultz, an exceeding marginal major league talent (he was a better pro basketball player), ended up having a six-year major league career, largely with the Dodgers, actually lasting in the majors until 1948, when, at the age of just 26, the Phillies and Reds figured out that, just because the was a good target, the fact that he couldn’t hit sort of spoiled the effect. Schultz’ career marks of .241/.281/.349 led to an awful OPS+ of 75. Schultz didn’t even have the distinction of being the tallest draft-ineligible player to hang around the majors during the war. Pirates’ and Giants’ pitcher Johnny “Whiz” Gee was 6’ 9”.

Of course, there have been a few other notable players in addition to Dickey Pearce who were born on February 29. The Wild Hoss of the Osage, Pepper Martin, was one. So were reliever Steve Mingori (1944) and outfielder Terrence Long (1976). Still, only a dozen men born on February 29 have made the majors, and the best by far was Al Rosen. Although he only played seven full seasons (and a few games in three others) with the Indians, not becoming a regular until a couple of years after his sixth birthday and playing his last year just having passed his eighth birthday, Al Rosen could hit. His career OPS+ was 137 (96th all time) and he authored a .285/.384/.495 batting line, making him a relatively high average hitter with power (a season high of 43 home runs when he was MVP in 1953) who also got a lot of walks (587 in 3725 at bats). You extend that over a full 15 year career, and you have a sure Hall of Famer, with possibly a little extra credit for being the third best Jewish player behind Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax.

Finally, although there’s typically not much going on in baseball on February 29 outside of Spring Training games, February 29 does mark the anniversary of a record-breaking event that took place on February 29, 1972. It was 36 years ago that Henry Aaron, just two years short of setting the all-time home run mark, signed a contract with the Atlanta Braves for $200,000 a year for three years, or some $15.3 million less than Barry Bonds got last year. And if that isn’t enough to make you leap, nothing is.

John Shiffert is the author of Baseball: 1862-2003, Baseball… Then and Now, and Base Ball in Philadelphia.

Clemens Laments by Jake Austen

Being blogless and bereft of anyone around me who would care, I never had a chance to vent my Roger Clemens diatribes leading up to or during his bullshit hearings. (The bullshit being Congressional baseball hearings held during wartime, not Clemens’ performance at said hearing.)

So anywhere, here are my thoroughly out of date thoughts:

I never liked Clemens. I’d venture that my low point as a baseball fan, and perhaps as a human being, was watching The Rocket beat the White Sox in late September, 2001. Doing so he became the first pitcher to start a season 20-1, amidst a post-World Trade Center attack atmosphere in which it was considered unpatriotic to root against the Yankees. My lowliness was demonstrated in the late innings when drunk-on-Giuliani Sox fans actually cheered Clemens on, to which my response, I am not proud to say, was to quietly, but (pathetically) earnestly declare, "Fuck September 11th!"

I was always happy to see the Sox beat Clemens. In 2003 they scored nine earned runs off him, one of his worst ever starts, and in 2007 the Sox scored eight runs off him in one and a third innings. (The Sox then remarkably gave up eight runs in the bottom of the second, before winning 13-9). Clemens was booed off the field in that one, and one of these games was with his mother in the stands (maybe that's why she suggested he start B-12 injections). And, of course, there was the less than satisfying, but nonetheless sweet, 2005 White Sox World Series Game One victory that featured an aged Clemens hobbling off the field and not returning after giving up three runs in two innings.

I suppose Clemens is lying and guilty, but I don’t know for sure, and if one’s main argument for his guilt is, “Why would Pettite lie?” I think a reasonable response might be that maybe he just hates Clemens and wants to screw him over. I guess Pettite isn't supposed to be like that, but c'mon, nobody's that Christian.

I am far less offended by the idea that Roger Clemens would take performance enhancing drugs than I am that he got to start the baseball season whenever he damn well felt like it, or that he didn't travel with the team, and was not required to attend games he was not pitching.

If he took steroids, I don't really care, mainly because I simply don’t believe that they made him better. Roger “Fucking” Clemens would have found a way to win 300 and strike out 4,000 through sheer will and spite and evil whether he was juiced or not.

I emphatically do not believe that steroids were responsible for Clemens' dickish personality. Nor, I imagine, do his wife, kids, teammates, bosses, or “doctors.”

I am genuinely disappointed that he won't play this season. The Clemenses and Ricky Hendersons and Julio Francos of this world should play Major League Baseball until they keel over on the field. I didn't like him, but I definitely will miss him.

Jake Austen publishes Roctober magazine and helps produce the public access children's dance show Chic-A-Go-Go.

The Zisk Interview: Bill Monbouquette by Mike Faloon

Former pitcher and coach Bill Monbouquette accomplished a lot during his decades in the big leagues—chief among his credentials: a no-hitter, a 20-win season and two trips to the All-Star game—but they pale compared to his ability to tell a story. When my brother and I attended the Syracuse Chiefs’ Hot Stove Dinner this past winter Monbouquette, who played with the Red Sox, Tigers, Yankees, and Giants over the course of an 11-year career (1958-1968), stole the show. His stories were funny and warm and, truth be told, they felt like they’d been told hundreds of times. It reminded me of watching comedian Don Rickles in the documentary Mr. Warmth. Rickles probably hasn’t changed his act in years and why should he? There’s nothing but the sense of enjoyment, no fatigue, no cynicism, no need for new material. Likewise for Monbouquette. Talking to fans was a pleasure not an obligation. Zisk caught up with Bill Monbouquette in February. (Interview by Mike Faloon)
I really enjoyed your stories from the Hot Stove League dinner in Syracuse and one player who seemed to have a big impact on you, a former teammate, was Ted Williams. You went fishing with Ted Williams.
Yeah, I was up in New Brunswick. I stayed two or three days at his camp. We had breakfast every morning and he’d get up at the crack of dawn and he would be yelling “toot ta toot toot toot” like he had a trumpet. He was a very early riser. I don’t know how many guys have ever fished with him. That’s Atlantic salmon, where his place is. When I was playing with him in the clubhouse he had a fly rod and a rumble lure and he’d say, Open that back pocket of yours, and about 20-30 feet away flip it right in there like it was nothing. This guy was not only a great player, the best hitter I ever saw, this guy was a great fisherman, fly fisherman, especially. I’m not the only guy that’s ever said that. It was a pleasure to play with him. He was a boyhood idol and still today he is my idol. I was fortunate to play with him for ’58, ’59, and ’60. I was there the last day he hit his home run. During the course of the game he’d hit three other balls that the wind held back and you get to thinking, If only Ted could do this. There I was right in the bullpen and we knew he wasn’t going to New York to finish the season, the weekend, and he ends up hitting this screamer into the bullpen—nothing was going to hold this ball back. I had a chance to catch it and I was in such awe. When it hit the back of that bullpen it made one hell of a loud noise and that was it. That was the end of his career. We all wish we could go out like that. Unfortunately it doesn’t happen. Only to the great ones, and he sure as hell was.

And it was through Ted that you met John Glenn.
Yes, I did. We met him, I’m trying to think if it was 1959 or ’60, I’m not sure. It was in Washington and when he said, I want you to meet the next man going to the moon we all looked at each other and said, What the hell is he smoking? What was going on? Going to the moon? It just didn’t sound right back in those days. It was quite a thrill because John Glenn, some kind of wonderful person, from my conversations with him anyway. When we had the memorial services at Fenway (for Ted) I got to talking to John and I asked him what kind of pilot Ted was and he said he was the best pilot he’s ever known. And (Ted’s) a guy that never went to college. My oldest son is a pilot for American Airlines and all the calculus and all that math they had to take in college. But here he did it and I don’t think they had calculus in high school back in those days. Wonderful eyesight. Naturally great instincts and I guess it’s hard to teach instincts. We started talking about him, how he handled the plane, and then when he crash landed his jet where he had been shot when he was in Korea and (John) said to me, Boy he can run. I said, I don’t think so. I mean, for three years I’ve never known him to have any speed. Anyway, he says when Ted landed that plane and he got the hell out of there you should have seen how quick he was. There are a million stories about Ted Williams.

Another great story is your no-hitter against the White Sox.

Oh yeah, of course Ted wasn’t there on that one. This was 1962 and I hadn’t won a game in a long time and we were flying over that day. We did a lot of that. You flew into the city and you played that day, sometimes in the afternoon, sometimes at night. I was sitting on the plane doing the crossword puzzle, struggling like hell with that and one of the stewardesses sat down and said, How are you doing?, and I said, I’m struggling with this puzzle. She goes, What position do you play, how you doing there? And I say, Pitcher and I’m struggling like hell with that one too. She got up and said, You’ll pitch a no-hitter tonight. The umpire that game was a guy named Bill McKinley and we go into the ninth inning and I’m winning 1-0 and I get the first two guys. I struck out Sherm Lollar and Nellie Fox was on deck. He was pinch hitting and he’s got this big smile and I don’t want to look at him because I don’t want to lose my concentration, that’s what he was trying to do. And (Fox) hit this weak ground ball to (Frank) Malzone who threw him out. Apparcio, I got two quick strikes and then I threw him a slider maybe a foot and a half off the plate and I thought he swung and the umpire, McKinley called it, No, he didn’t swing and as the ball was coming back to me from the catcher I heard somebody yell from the stands, They shot the wrong McKinley! Oh my god, I had to walk around off the mound. The next pitch I threw him another slider and he swung and missed and let me tell you something don’t let anybody tell you that white people can’t jump because I was way up off the ground. That was probably my greatest thrill. Winning 20 games was wonderful but nothing can beat that. I had a shot at two, three more. I had a one-hitter in Boston and a one-hitter in Minnesota, which I lost. You win some and you lose some.

That was a good stretch for you. You went to the All-Star game three times in four years.
Yeah, well, I didn’t pitch very well in the game in Kansas City in ’60. I gave up three home runs. Mays led off the game. I sidearmed him and he bailed out and hit the ball down the right field line and it went for a triple. Banks hit a homerun off of me and Crandall hit a home run. That’s why I tell kids I’m an authority on homeruns. I gave up 221 of them. I think that allows me to be an authority. One of the nicest things that ever happened to me, in the ’60 All-Star game, we played two (games) back then, we would try to raise more money for the pension and we played in Kansas City in that game that I pitched in. I was the loser. Then right after the game we flew back to New York and had a day off and played the next day. We were sitting on the runway. It was hot. It was 120 at game time at the park and it was down in the hold which made it much hotter. We were sitting there. I can’t recall what was wrong—a strike?—but there was a long delay, a couple of hours, and Mantle comes up to me—I was with the Red Sox—he says, I can’t hit you. I know what you’re going to throw me. I know where you’re going to throw it and I can’t hit it and I can’t lay off of it. You know, sometimes when they try to con you? Like Rocky Calavito used to say, Hey, how’s your family? Anyway, we get to New York and I was sitting in the lobby and it was around five o’clock and wondering what I was going to do. Stan Musial and four or five other guys come walking through the lobby and he says, What are you doing? I said, Just hanging around. He said, Have you eaten yet? I said, No. C’mon, you’re going with us. You can’t ask for a nicer thing to happen to you, to have Stan Musial ask you to go to dinner. Couldn’t ask for a nicer guy. I got to know him through Mickey Mantle’s Make a Wish Golf Tournament. What a wonderful guy. Always had time for the people. I like that in a player. You always have to give back. That seems to be a thing of the past. There are certain people that do it. I like the way David Ortiz is with the fans.

You’d mentioned Willie Mays. You later played with the Giants. Did you get to know guys like Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry and Mays?
Oh yeah. One time I was coaching for the Blue Jays in St. Caterine’s, Ontario in the New York-Penn League and some of our kids were running around and we had to bail them out of jail, so I took my pitching staff over to the bullpen and I started saying Ted Williams. Carl Yastremski. Al Kaline. Whitey Ford. Willie Mays. Willie McCovey. Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry. I said, Do you know who those guys are? A couple of the guys said, Who are they? I said, They’re all Hall of Famers and they didn’t act like you idiots. That put their heads down real quick. I got to know Gaylord pretty well. I knew Willie when I was in charge of minor league pitching for the Mets. Willie was working for the Mets. I loved Willie, really a great guy. The greatest all-around player for me was Willie Mays. One time he hit a homerun against me in spring training in Scottsdale. I had just knocked him down real good and I hung him a curveball and Yaz was in leftfield and he hit the ball so far and so hard and Yaz never made an attempt to go for it. It was 360 down the line in Scottsdale. Yaz just put his head down. In a kidding way, when the inning was over, I said, Hey, don’t show me up, make an attempt for the ball. He said, That’s over the swimming pool. There was a parking lot and then there was a swimming pool. Oh, it was a 500-foot shot. Then he hit one off of me over in Phoenix. It was a line drive. It was almost up on to the road and it hit the embankment out there and bounced all the way back to second base. What the hell’s the difference if it’s 500 feet or 320 feet, you know?

You were with the Yankees in ’67 and ‘68 and I noticed that a lot of future managers and coaches—you, Bobby Cox, Dick Howser, Mel Stottlemyre—on those teams, which Ralph Houk managed. Is there any connection between the way he treated players and the fact that so many of them went on to be managers and coaches?

I’m sure everybody learned from him. He was a player’s manager. He stuck up for the players. If there was a brawl on the field he was the first guy there. We all know his service background. He was a major. He was easy to talk to. I was Billy Martin’s coach; he wasn’t very easy to talk to. If you’re a guy’s coach and you can’t talk to the manager, it makes it tough. I loved him.

You also worked for the Mets when Doc Gooden came up.

When he was in the minor leagues I was there. In the instructional league all I ever said to Doc was don’t let anybody fool with your delivery. There are pitching coaches that are happy to change deliveries. It’s hard to change someone who’s been throwing a certain way all his life. You can make a couple of adjustments here and there. I know guys who have said, It’s time to change the delivery. What the hell? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. One thing you don’t hear pitching coaches say, like the old timers you used to say: Get after him. The hitter knows when you’re not challenging him or getting after him. I remember Ted used to say, Well he’s going to do this and on this count he’s going to do that, he’s going to pussyfoot and not give me anything to hit. That was his memory. I can remember as an 18-year-old kid sitting on the bench hearing Ted say, C’mon, we’ve got to get this club. It was at Fenway, you know. I had just signed. You got to get these guys here because we’re going to Cleveland and we’re going in to face the Nasty Boys: Feller. Wynn. Lemon. Garcia. Narleski. Mossi. It might have been the greatest pitching staff of all time. And everybody would say, Yeah, sure, you really have trouble with those guys. He’d be talking about hitting and everything else. As an 18-year-old kid what the hell do you know about hitting? I said to myself, Did I make a mistake here in signing or what? That was a great experience to be around him, to listen to him talk. He’d talk about meeting Babe Ruth, and he did introduce me to Ty Cobb in Scottsdale, Arizona. That was probably ’60 or ’61 or so and he was wheeling Ty around in a wheelchair and I had just pitched nine innings against the Dodgers and got beat 1-0 or 2-1. John Roseboro hit a home run off me in the ninth inning and (Ty) said, I like the way you pitch, son, get right after ‘em. How can you not remember that? Of course, I said, Thank you, sir.

One last thing: I see that when you were with the Tigers in ’66 you stole a base.
Did I have one or two?

According to what I found you had one.

That was against Kansas City.

You have a pretty good memory of your pitching side, do you remember your stolen base?
I guess I was with the Tigers when I stole that. That was in Kansas City. I remember the throw was high and Bert Campaneris tried to hit me on the top of the head. And I gave him a little shove. The game has been great to me.

Mike Faloon might just do the Angel Pagan wing flap dance before too long. In the meantime, he and his wife are expecting their second child in early June.

Sutton, The Garv and Me...The Reggie Smith Story by Tim Hinely

Back in my younger days there was only one Reggie as far as I was concerned. Forget Reggie Jackson. Yeah, he was “Mr. October,” I’ll give him that, but my money was always on Reggie Smith. Pure switch hitter, one of the strongest arms in history and most importantly, a quiet superstar who let his bat do the talking for him. Not sure what it was but if I can pinpoint it I think it was that baseball card with him wearing that cool red St. Louis Cardinals uniform. I am a diehard Pittsburgh Pirates fan but there was something about that Cardinals uniform that I always dug and Reggie wore it better than anyone.

Thing is Reggie only wore that red uniform for two and a half years (1974 to the middle of the 1976 season) but it was that 1975 Topps card that got me going. He debuted in 1966 with the Boston Red Sox (and came in second in Rookie of the Year voting in 1967) and spent the first eight seasons of his career with that team and while good, they were not his most productive years. His time in St. Louis was well spent. In 1974, his first year with the Cards, he hit 23 homers, had 100 runs batted in and batted .309. That was good enough to earn him 11th place in MVP voting. His first few years with his next team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, are when Reggie drove the point home (pun intended). In 1977 and 1978, he came in fourth in the MVP voting with a career-high 32 roundtrippers in ’77. Can you say underrated?

My favorite Reggie story doesn’t even directly involve Reggie. During the 1978 season the Dodgers were being the Dodgers (i.e. winning) but there was trouble in paradise. Their star pitcher, Don Sutton, had a serious distaste for their star slugger, Steve Garvey. One day Mr. Sutton made some public comments about how Reggie was the real MVP of that team, not the clean cut (yeah, right), All American star Garvey. One thing led to another and Garvey approached Sutton and asked if the comments were true. Sutton replied that yes, they were true. After a few more choice words Sutton then jumped on Garvey and threw him into a row of lockers and the two went down. Each was trying to land punches but both ended up getting more scratch marks than bruises and Garvey received the worst of it. The Garv got his ass handed to him (the only good thing about that guy was his wife, Cindy, who left him for ……umm….musician Marvin Hamlisch). Sutton’s quote said it all, “All you hear about on our team is Steve Garvey, the All-American boy. Well, the best player on this team for the last two years—and we all know it—is Reggie Smith. Reggie doesn’t go out and publicize himself he tells the truth, even if it sometimes alienates people. He doesn’t smile at the right people or say the right things. Reggie’s not a fa├žade or Madison Avenue image. He’s a real person.”

With 314 lifetime home runs, 2020 hits, 1092 rbi and a .287 lifetime batting average Reggie probably will not make the Hall of Fame (my pal Keith would say he belongs in the “Hall of Good”) but let’s take a moment out to remember a guy who was a terrific ballplayer, played hard, and was respected by his peers. Plus he was indirectly responsible for Steve Garvey getting his butt whooped. You can’t ask for more than that.

Tim Hinely lives in Portland, Oregon where he publishes his own zine, Dagger. For a copy please write to daggerboy@prodigy.net.

The Zisk Book Corner by Steve Reynolds

Let me get this confession out of the way immediately— I’m a sucker for lists. I’ve done a couple of articles based on lists in these pages over the years, as well as doing my own Top 20 list-based music fanzine for 18 years. I used to transcribe what Casey Kasem counted down each week on American Top 40 and only stopped once I learned he didn’t want to do a dead dog dedication.

In any case, my fondness of lists doesn’t make me the best person to review two new books about the Mets—100 Things Mets Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die by Matthew Silverman and Mets by the Numbers by Jon Springer and the same Matthew Silverman. Yet I think that even folks who write off lists as nothing but a cheap way to fill space would dig these fascinating books.

100 Things lines up the well known moments, people, places, events, games and records that hard core Mets fans probably have ingrained in their brains and adds a healthy dose of the obscure. Everybody knows the Bill Bucker ball (which is first on the list) and the Miracle Mets, but who knew that there was another Murphy besides Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob at the team’s inception? (Um, not me.) And #70 on the list (dubbed “Lost in Translation”) is a must read as it lists the 44 players who have played for the Mets and have also — like the fake moustache-wearing Bobby Valentine — spent time hitting or pitching in Japan.

Silverman excels at bringing these same quirky items from the team’s history to light in a very easy to read, conversational style of writing that sounds like one smart fan who happens to sit next to you at a ballgame, and not like some drunk wiseass who claims he knows why Aaron Heilman pitches like hell every other game. (Oh, wait, that’s every person at Shea this season.)

Speaking of Shea, Silverman spends his final 10 points talking about the ballpark the Amazin’s have inhabited for the past 44 years—and somehow makes it sound a whole lot better than my ass and my back have been experiencing since 1985. The stadium has seen its share of criticism over the years but Silverman puts a nice face on the dump, um, I mean ballpark with an insightful guide to the best seats, the best tailgating and the other greats who have called Shea home. (The Beatles anyone?) 100 Things isn’t essential for the over-the-top Mets fan, but it’s a perfect introduction for someone just learning the joy and agony that being a Mets fan entails.

Silverman teamed up with Jon Springer, the head honcho of the great Mets site called Mets By the Numbers, for the book that carries the same name. While Silverman’s other book of this year can be enjoyed by the casual Mets fan, Mets by the Numbers is a must read for anyone who’s lost sleep over a Willie Randolph move, a Doug Sisk pitch or an appearance by the immortal # 51, Mel Rojas. This book breaks down the team’s history by uniform number and brings up name after name that I thought years of abusing my body had made me forget. Kane Davis? (#48) Esix Sneed? (#23) Roberto Petagine? (#20) From the biggest stars down to the one day minor league call-ups, all the players are in here along with who produced the best stats while wearing each number. It’s a fascinating way to dissect a team’s history and give it a fresh spin.

Simply put, Mets by the Numbers is the best book I have ever read about my favorite sports team of all time. After you finish Zisk, head to your favorite local, independent book store and track down a copy. And you too will know the greatest # 40 in Mets history. (Trust me, that’s not really high praise for that number.)

Steve Reynolds is the co-editor of Zisk, and his favorite number is 24, like, um, that ballplayer named Mays.

Curse of the Great Giambi by Mark Hughson

It goes without saying that anyone who reads or writes for Zisk enjoys the game of baseball. And while I feel disappointed when my team loses, and get a thrill out of the big games in October, baseball is something I don’t take personally. You don’t like the A’s? I’m ok with that. Or take Barry Bonds, he might be a jerk but he never personally disrespected me so I got no real beef with him. Overall I’d say my relationship with baseball is positive and healthy except for this one guy Jason Giambi—he’s a douchebag.

The year was 2001 and the season had just finished. Giambi was named MVP in 2000, and in the ’01 season he continued his All-Star/Silver Slugger performance. The guy was in his prime and a hot commodity. After the 2001 season he was a free agent. Oakland’s paltry budget couldn’t hang on to him (a running theme we’ve seen persist with Miguel Tejada and Barry Zito). So his contract was up, and he was moving to a new team. I was ok with that, being a realist after all. He signed with the Yankees, and I was fine with that too. When asked by the press why he chose to sign with the Yankees, Giambi said, “I want to play for a contender, I want to play for a competitive team.” What a fucking prick! The A’s had been duking it out in the toughest division in all of baseball for most of the late ’90s. They were gaining momentum, finally constructing both a solid lineup and that Hudson-Mulder-Zito starting rotation, and in the last two years before Giambi left, won the division or the wild card spot and played against other playoff teams with twice (or in the case of the Yankees, thrice) their team salary. Although I was a couple thousand miles away just sitting in front of the TV, I felt emotionally confused, disrespected, and deeply insulted on behalf on myself, the Athletics organization, and the rest of their fans. I didn’t know it at the time, perhaps it was a subconscious act, but I had just cursed the Yankees. I never before had taken the game to heart but when I heard Giambi spew that crap I just shook my head and said, “Fuck that guy.” For as long as Giambi wears pinstripes, the Yanks will never win a World Series. You may think this is just a gag, but in baseball, stats hold weight, and I’ll let the numbers do the talking from now on.

The Oakland Athletics
1999 – finished 2nd in division
2000 – West Division title
2001 – Wild Card winner

Giambi leaves Oakland A’s
2002 – West Division title
2003 – West Division title
2004 – finished 2nd in division
2005 – finished 2nd in division
2006 – West Division title
2007 – finished 10 games below .500

The New York Yankees

1999 – World Series winner
2000 – World Series winner
2001 – AL Pennant winner

Giambi signs with Yankees
2002 – Lost ALDS to Angels
2003 – Lost WS to Marlins
2004 – Lost ALCS to Red Sox
2005 – Lost ALDS to Angels
2006 – Lost ALDS to Tigers
2007 – Lost ALDS to Indians

Upstate NY native Mark Hughson has been writing about baseball and music for almost a dozen years. His worthless baseball card collection consisting of Topps cards from 1987-1994 is up for sale - contact markhughson@hotmail.com