By Anthony Bosco
Nearly everywhere I go it seems that everyone I come across asks me the same question: What’s up with the Mets? My usual response is not printable within the confines of a community newspaper, but for the next few hundred words or so, I will try to water down my comments on the current state of New York’s most sorry franchise this side of the Rangers.
I have always thought that being a Mets fan is like being the baseball equivalent of an Islanders fan, meaning you will always be in the minority and as far as storied history goes, you just can’t compete.
But more and more lately the Mets are turning into the Rangers, a team of over-priced talent not performing anywhere near expectation. The Rangers have Eric Lindros, Alexei Kovalev and Pavel Bure while the Mets counter with Tom Glavine, Mo Vaughn and Roger Cedeno.
To be compared with the Rangers is like being compared to mud. I love the Broadway Blues, but they stink worse than a two-day-old shish kebob. The Mets are right there, so bad that the stench from Shea Stadium is starting to encroach on downtown Flushing.
I recently had the pleasure — if you can call it that — of attending a Mets game, one of those rare wins this season. In that game against the Houston Astros everything seemed to go right. The team got just enough starting pitching from Al Leiter and barely enough offense for closer Armando Benitez not to come in and have a mini-breakdown on the mound before blowing another save.
While at the game, my friend Mark said something that sort of rang true.
“They have to tear this stadium down,” he said. “This place is a black hole.”
Shea may be part of the problem. Though the stadium is just about 30 years old, it is now a dinosaur in the baseball community. While not hallowed ground like Yankees Stadium, Wrigley Field or Fenway Park, Shea is just a fairly ordinary-looking place that is horrendous to hit in.
Plans for a new home for the Mets have been in the works for years, but they will probably finish fixing the Long Island Expressway before they break ground on a stadium. Don’t hold your breath, Mark.
A quick look at the Mets lineup and it is easy for me to see why general manager Steve Phillips spent more than $100 million assembling it. But then again, when it comes to scouting major league talent, I know just a little bit more than Jennifer Lopez.
Phillips is to blame, Phillips is to blame, Phillips is to blame. Talk about Bobby Valentine, Art Howe, whoever, but Phillips put this team together, got Mets’ owner Fred Wilpon to agree to his decisions and went about signing a bunch of overage pitchers and past all-stars, thinking this would be a team that would win right away.
Just because Joe Fan might have a knee-jerk positive reaction to the Mets’ signing guys such as Vaughn, Roberto Alomar, Cliff Floyd, Glavine, Rey Sanchez and Jay Bell doesn’t mean they were good calls. It is Phillips’ job to know better, to put together a team and to know ahead of time whether or not the chemistry will work.
Seriously, does anyone out there think the 2003 Mets are better or should be better than the 2000 Mets that went to the World Series? I mean, c’mon, would you take Mo Vaughn over John Olerud or Ty Wigginton over Robin Ventura? Of course not.
This is a team built around its batting order, and its batting order can’t hit. Mike Piazza, who I would not ordinarily criticize, should not be behind the plate anymore. Sure, he can call a good game, but when he is catching in the eighth or ninth inning, God forbid someone draws a walk, because it is an automatic double with Piazza’s lack of an arm.
And the guy just can’t seem to hit with runners on base. How many times am I going to see him hit into an inning-ending double play. Earlier this year he actually had three home runs and four RBIs. Think about that stat.
Cedeno, ugh. The guy can run like Bob Hayes, but he has a better chance of getting on base if he leaves the bat in the dugout and tries to purposely get hit by a pitch. Leave him on the bench already and just platoon Timo Perez and Tsuyoshi Shinjo, which, granted, is not much better.
With Vaughn joining Jeromy Burnitz on the DL temporarily, Tony Clark will get some more at-bats, which may be a good thing, if only he stops trying to hit the ball to College Point every time he swings.
The pitching staff of Leiter, Glavine, Steve Trachsel, Pedro Astacio and Jae Weong Seo isn’t scaring anyone, maybe a few years ago, but not right now. Maybe the next time Phillips wants to sign a free agent hurler to a multiyear deal, the pitcher should be on the lighter side of 30.
It’s not all bad, though. David Weathers has been OK out of the pen and Joe McEwing is fun to watch. Maybe Piazza will step up and carry the team, maybe Leiter and Glavine will shake off their inconsistent starts and flourish. Maybe Burnitz will come back and hit 35 homers.
But more likely the Mets will rally to hover around .500 in September and have us all thinking about 2004 and what might be.
Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.