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Requiem For A One-Eyed Batter

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Requiem For A One-Eyed Batter

Posted on 12 September 2012 by Gary Perilloux

A day like any other? Hardly. Soon, Larry Mize would plunk a 140-foot chip into the final playoff hole cup at Augusta, giving Greg Norman the most bitter defeat of his career at The Masters.

But the day belonged to baseball, really. Here we were, a dozen general managers, an auctioneer, several wives, girlfriends and hangers-on in a downtown watering hole about four Mickey Mantle home run blasts from the Mississippi River.

Doug’s, a Beaux-Arts establishment, sported 20-foot ceilings, massive maroon drapes, heavy tables with captain’s chairs, a dartboard and jukebox at the back and a curved-screen, cathode-ray tube piping The Masters in over the bar, helmed by a discreet bookie who’d triple as our barkeep and auctioneer.

Draft Day – all’s right with the world, and just as we pored over our cheat sheets, penciling in last-minute strategies in our Rotisserie reveries, the scene-stealer burst through the door with a stack of research in one arm and a stack of neon yellow caps on the other.

Lyman Gore, a wiry, 40-ish attorney with curly, dishwater blond hair, strode in from a nearby print shop with a gleam in his one good eye and a gift for every Fantasy Baseball owner at the table: A purple logo printed on the yellow caps, LSU-like, but this was no Eye of the Tiger. No, Lyman – confident of claiming his first championship – lavished upon us custom caps with a purple bat striking a purple baseball festooned with his trademark glass eye and a caption below his team name: “Cyclops – In the Bat of an Eye.”

CYCLOPS CAP

Laughs cascaded to the ceiling, and the loudest was Lyman’s, a hoarse cackle that crinkled the corners of his eyes and that echoed through every River City League draft until, finally, two decades later he would claim his first title.

‘I Hate Pitchers’

Pitchers were the bane of Lyman’s existence. It was as if his mind’s eye suffered from a loss of perspective the way his physical eye suffered from a lack of peripheral vision.

Seated with his roster sheet and inside baseball publications – typically at a separate table – he’d grab his thermos and swill some coffee of the Irish kind. When it came his turn to nominate a player in the draft auction, he’d slap his thermos on the table and mutter an oath, “I hate pitchers,” usually followed by the corollary phrase, “with a passion.”

Year-in, year-out, the Cyclops couldn’t seem to break that cycle. The pitchers seemed to hate Lyman as much as he hated them. He’d spend big on sluggers and base-stealers until someone would say, “Lyman, when you gonna draft a pitcher?” His rejoinder: “I hope never.”

Some years he’d sit out the bidding altogether until, at the first break, one of us would say, “Lyman, when you gonna draft somebody?” His rejoinder, “I’m saving my money,” reflected his upbringing as a banker’s son, and then the corollary “I don’t want to blow it all on pitchers” would precede another cackle and a round of good-natured ribbing.

But clearly a pattern was setting in. Lyman, who scouted spring training and pored over player rankings with the best of us, usually exceeding the preparation any of the rest of us could muster, slowly but surely sank into a bidding paralysis. He seemed not to want to pull the trigger and, eventually, seemed incapable of doing so in the crucial moments of the draft.

Fantasy baseball purists know the pitfalls. Never spend too much, too early. Never bring up a player you don’t want to own. And never get so excited about a player that your bid is out of proportion with the player’s Fantasy, not real, value. Sometimes the most modest of bids is excessive. One year, my brother Glen, playing with a Canadian oil man named Lloyd Thomas as his partner, listened while someone opened one of the first bids with “Kevin Ritz, starting pitcher, Colorado.” Now these were the 1990s, and Coors Field was the ultimate hitter’s crib: One simply didn’t draft Rockies pitchers if they could be avoided – and never early in the draft. To his horror, Glen heard the oil man bellow a second bid for Ritz from behind his bushy mustache. A split second of silence ensued, then came the thundering sound of my brother’s foot stomping and the exclamation: “Lloyd!” Wounded, the oil man defended himself: “Well, he won 17 games last year. He’s worth at least one more bid.” Ritz also had surrendered 105 walks and 125 earned runs the prior year to go with a WHIP of 1.601 and a 5.28 ERA.

By then, the jig was up, laughter knifed through the auction tension, and I don’t have to tell you who laughed loudest.

The Comeback Kid

Still, Lyman couldn’t break his lovable loser mold. He’d overcompensate in ways that led to more mirth. When time came for our Minor League picks, Lyman amped up the levity by selecting farm hands for the peculiarity of their names: Razor Shines, Motorboat Jones and Boof Bonser all spent time riding the Cyclops bench.

And yet Lyman flourished in his role as our league’s commissioner. Our River City League began nearly 30 years ago when Rotisserie founders Glenn Waggoner and Daniel Okrent penned the first edition of the classic, Rotisserie League Baseball, and we original owners read it. In those days, we crunched our own stats by hand – ugh! – and delighted in the delayed discovery of who was winning. Lyman joined a couple of years later, when we’d begun receiving weekly faxed stats from a service in Maryland.

When, a decade later, Web leagues burst onto the scene, Lyman stepped up to the plate as our online commissioner. On any given summer night, you could go to our site, glance through the standings and there in the chat room Lyman would be lurking, as sure and certain a presence as the moon outside.

We exchanged hundreds of emails about transactions and trades over the years, often never seeing each other between drafts because we lived in different cities. And then a funny thing happened.

Lyman embraced the baseball strategies of John Benson with a passion and began moving up the standings from his perennial also-ran status. Most miraculous of all, he embraced pitchers. With Benson behind him, Lyman learned that pitchers could be his friends, especially the innings-eaters with low ERAs, stingy WHIPs and frequent W’s in a holy pitching trinity. He learned to eschew saves – you can’t win every category, the reasoning went, so don’t overpay for a bunch of unpredictable relievers.

Gradually, he applied the same systematic approach to hitters. He climbed from 4 pitching points, 21 total points and 10th place (last) in 2001 to ninth a year later, with 14 pitching points and 37 total points. In 2003, he scaled to third place with a balanced line of 24 points in batting and 23 in pitching. The next year, he claimed second place (44 points) in the most competitive year in our league’s history.

And then it happened. In 2005, the Cyclops claimed the no-longer mythical championship, beating my Peripatetics team by 4.5 points and recording the league’s best balance: 26 batting points, 23 pitching points. I couldn’t have been happier if I’d won myself, and I almost felt the same way in 2006 when Lyman edged me by 2 points to take his second consecutive crown.

If anyone deserved to gloat, it was Lyman, but he remained uncannily gracious as a champion and continually competitive in the succeeding years. Shortly after the All-Star Game this year, I pulled into our office parking lot after lunch, heard my phone buzz with what I expected to be a work email and read the impossible: Lyman had died after surgery and a brief illness.

Eternal Summer

I’ll never know what going to war is like, fighting with brothers in arms on foreign soil. But this felt like someone blasted my bunkmate out of our foxhole. I lost it. When I posted a brief email to my fellow owners a few moments later, it stated the unfiltered truth about Lyman: “Devastating: It will never be the same without him.”

Fantasy commissioners aren’t supposed to die, they’re supposed to go on forever – longer than Bud Selig, God love him. Several other league owners had died over the years, but none in mid-season and none more dedicated to this silly, romantic, guts-and-glory game we pursue.

The best I can do is step off the pitching mound and hand the ball over to the late great Mike Royko, whose posthumous collection of columns in 1999 began with this requiem on the final day when his beloved Chicago Daily News ceased publication in 1978:

When I was a kid, the worst of all days
Was the last day of summer vacation,
and we were in the schoolyard playing softball,
and the sun was going down, and it was getting dark.
But I didn’t want it to get dark.
I didn’t want the game to end.
It was too good, too much fun.
I wanted it to stay light forever,
so we could go on playing forever,
so the game would go on and on.

That’s how I feel now: C’mon, C’mon!
Let’s play one more inning.
One more time at bat.
One more pitch. Just one?
Stick around, guys.
We can’t break up this team.
It’s too much fun.

But the sun always went down.
And now it’s almost dark again.

Elsewhere, the sun is rising, and I see Ray Kinsella tossing a baseball to his dad, the catcher. Ty Cobb is filing his spikes, and Shoeless Joe Jackson is lacing up his cleats, staring down Cobb. Satchel Paige is on the pitching mound, staring over his shoulder to see how far Jackie Robinson is cheating toward second base.

Perched on the front row of the bleachers, Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis casts a quizzical eye at Shoeless Joe and glares at the first baseman, Chick Gandil. Beside Landis, Bowie Kuhn engages A. Bartlett Giamatti in a scholarly debate on free agency, and next to them, wearing the golden cap with the purple eye, sits Lyman Gore – thermos in one hand, stat sheet on his knee.

He winks.

Today, Gary Perilloux’s RCL team stands in sixth place, a point behind the late Lyman Gore’s Cyclops, who are tied for fourth and leading the league with a .282 team batting average. 

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Mike Francesa goes Crazy Pants on the Mets…and I agree.

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Mike Francesa goes Crazy Pants on the Mets…and I agree.

Posted on 26 August 2012 by Trish Vignola

Famed New York radio show host, Mike Francesa of WFAN, didn’t get to where he is by being polite. As much as I disagree with his garden-variety fare, albeit pioneering garden-variety fare, 100% of the time, Francesca actually tapped into something raw and real this week. Something I agreed with, grant it I still had to kill most of the volume on his frothing, voice-cracking tone.

And after the Mets were swept in four games by the last-place Colorado Rockies, the team sunk to 11-28 since the All-Star break. Francesa, a notorious Mets’ hater, went absolutely bonkers on the Mets and manager Terry Collins… rightfully so.

If you haven’t checked out Francesca’s crazy pants rant, enjoy the chaos, as well as the Rich Kotite reference, here.

The Astros should thank they’re luck stars they don’t play in New York.

While this clip is frankly amazing, it falls behind the definitive Mike & The Mad Dog rant from Chris Russo after the Giants exited the 2003 NL playoffs. Barely. In terms of radio show host tirades, the Francesca clip is awesome. His anger builds as he gets going. He’s flat out yelling at one point. The coup de grace?

“If I was the owner, if I was Jeff Wilpon, if I’m Sandy Alderson, I would be afraid to show my face in public if this was my team. That’s how bad this has been now. Listen, we gave them credit when they deserved it this year, but I’ve never seen a team die like this team.”

He’s right though. The Mets are in free fall. For example, in the Rockies series, a 50-73 Colorado Rockies team swept them in four games in Flushing. It wasn’t for lack of starting pitching either. Collin McHugh threw seven scoreless innings, allowing two hits and one walk. The Mets still managed to lose.

It’s easy to blame guys, like Jordany Valdespin. In the final game of the Rockies series, he misplayed Tyler Colvin‘s eighth-inning would-be lineout into a triple that wound up becoming the game’s only run. Valdespin was thrown out stealing and failed to lay down a requested sacrifice bunt.

Blaming Valdespin is too easy though. He’s one of the few components of this Mets team with any life left. Josh Thole and Daniel Murphy are singles hitters who don’t hit singles. Trust me, I know. Thole is on my dang Fantasy Baseball team.

David Wright‘s been ordinary at best since the All-Star break. Andres Torres heads to the plate looking to find any excuse not to swing. Ike Davis homers occasionally. He walks from time to time, but that’s not often.

Scott Hairston recently started playing like Scott Hairston is supposed to play. Trust me. He too is on my Met-like Fantasy Baseball team.
Jason Bay? Next Subject.

No need to kick them when they’re down. Unless, you’re talking about the bullpen, then kick away.

As crazy as Francesa gets, he’s got a point. Yes, a gloried minor league team beat them. Nonetheless, after giving up and playing dead after the All-Star break, the Mets are no better. You don’t have to listen to all 10 minutes and 15 seconds to get the gist of it, but you probably won’t want to turn it off, either.

The Mets have done a lot of reprehensible things since early July. The worst thing they did: they made me agree with Mike Francesa.

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An Open Letter to Melky Cabrera

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An Open Letter to Melky Cabrera

Posted on 16 August 2012 by Trish Vignola

Dear Melky,

Can I call you Melky? No, I won’t call you “The Melk Man”. I’m not that brilliant wordsmith, John Sterling.

You were a bright shinning beacon for my otherwise dismal fantasy baseball team. On a team that provided my league with such memorable moves like taking Joey Votto as my first draft pick. Joey Votto? You know Joey Votto – 2010 National League MVP, hitting .342, disabled list. How about Johan Santana? Oh, he was my sleeper pick. Sure, he pitched the first no-hitter in New York Mets franchise history. Now? If his earned run average were a child, it would be entering the first grade.

You though were different. You were the Most Valuable Player of the 2012 All-Star Game. You’re hitting .346, the second highest average in the National League. You have 11 home runs and 60 runs batted in. You lead the major leagues with 159 hits and 84 runs. Did I mention that you are playing for a San Francisco Giants team that was tied with the Los Angeles Dodgers for first place in the National League West entering today’s games? You sir, kept me from dead last place.

Surprise! Today, you gave me the gift that keeps on giving. You tested positive for testosterone. No, that’s not my fancy way of saying “You da Man!” That is though my fancy way of saying Major League Baseball suspended you for 50 games effective immediately.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to give you a speech about “cheaters never winning” and how I hope the effects of losing the rest of your salary has some impact on your psyche. Based on the false pretense in which you presented your services, I hope this has more of an impact on the Giants accounting department. It’s obvious that you were over paid.

I’m not going to talk about how people would give their eyeteeth for just one shot to do what you do every day. The Giants have 45 games remaining. It looks like you’ll miss the rest of the regular season and then either five games of a playoff run or the first five games of next season. It’s totally not worth it to give our eyeteeth to do what you do now – you know, sitting on your couch watching “Baseball Tonight”.

Dude! You were on a legitimate playoff contender. Do you realize that last year you were on the Kansas City Royals? Seriously. After what you did, my fantasy baseball team might as well BE the Royals.

“My positive test was the result of my use of a substance I should not have used,” you said in a statement released by the Major League Baseball Players Association. “I accept my suspension under the Joint Drug Program and I will try to move on with my life. I am deeply sorry for my mistake and I apologize to my teammates, to the San Francisco Giants organization and to the fans for letting them down.”

Cue the “NBC ‘The More You Know’ Music.”

I could take the high road. I could release a fantasy statement regarding my fantasy baseball team just like the Giants did. “We were extremely disappointed to learn of the suspension of Melky Cabrera for violating Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention & Treatment Program. We fully support Major League Baseball’s policy and its efforts to eliminate performance-enhancing drugs from our game. Per the protocol outline by Major League Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement, the Giants will not comment further on this matter.” But, I am.

As you sit on your butt for the rest of the season, all I hope is that you stay away from R.A. Dickey and you get really fat. If you need me, I’ll be digging my hole deeper until this season finally ends.

Yours truly,

Trish

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mets-all-star-logo

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The Mets Unveil Their All-Star Logo And Promise A Legacy

Posted on 11 August 2012 by Trish Vignola

If a fantasy baseball team could have a theme song, mine would be “Slip Sliding Away.” I bet high this season. I took a lot of Mets off the free agent wires, especially when they came out of the gate with that unexpected strong start.

I stick by my theory that they still look good on paper. Nonetheless, after the game yesterday, another soldier fell. Mets Left-Handed Pitcher Tim Byrdak said he would have season-ending surgery to repair a torn capsule in his shoulder. Trying to balance the overflow of players on the disabled list that have spilled onto my bench has become a weekly dance for me.

In more interesting Mets’ news (yes, on occasion it exists), the 2013 All-Star Game has a date, a venue, and now it has a face. The Mets revealed the logo for the 2013 game at Citi Field on Tuesday. Of course, it features their familiar blue and orange. Unlike most things the team does, the logo is actually very cool. Drawing from the Mets’ classic skyline logo and lettering, it has got a funky retro feel.

“The city of New York’s been great in putting this together,” Mets COO Jeff Wilpon said at Tuesday’s press conference. “It wouldn’t happen without all those people coming together, working with us and awarding this game to Citi Field.” I was kind of surprised about how smoothly their bid went. If you are a native to the area, you are well versed in how the team is oft forgotten (and that’s when the team is actually doing well).

“It’s great to be a part of this celebration,” said Mets Third Baseman David Wright. “I can’t think of a bigger or better baseball stage. It’s great that we finally get an opportunity to showcase the beautiful complex, Citi Field, our home to the world. I can’t think of a better place or a more historical city to have an All-Star Game.”

The 2013 All-Star Game is scheduled for July 16 at Citi Field. The last time the Big Apple hosted the game was in 2008 at, of course, Yankee Stadium. More significantly, it is the first time the Mets have hosted the game since 1964, their inaugural season at Shea Stadium.

The Mets have had 109 All-Star selections in their franchise history. Seven of them attended Tuesday’s event, including Wright, R.A. Dickey, Johan Santana, Keith Hernandez, Ron Darling, Dwight Gooden and John Franco. Or, as I like to refer to them, seven Mets we know can’t embarrass us between now and July 16.

Come to think of it. You never want to hedge your bets on Doc Gooden and good behavior.

Dozens of Mets officials attended last month’s All-Star Game in Kansas City. They were taking tours of Kauffman Stadium and familiarizing themselves with All-Star protocol. Though the game will not take place for another 11 months, the team is actually preparing. This is an action most Mets fans normally do not associate with their team brass.

Next year’s event will be the ninth All-Star Game in New York City history. There were two stops at the Polo Grounds, one at Ebbets Field, one at Shea and four at the old Yankee Stadium (who saw that coming?). Between that and getting the Super Bowl, maybe we can all stop crying about losing the Olympics.

The city’s first deputy major, Patricia Harris, estimated that the game would bring more than 175,000 visitors to New York City and generate a $200-million economic impact. That doesn’t even take into account the residual economic impact that will be experienced by neighboring states such as New Jersey and Connecticut. “We have the greatest fans in the world, so it’s only fitting that we host the game’s greatest players,” said Harris to MLB.Com. “The game will not only raise the sports profile of our city, but it will help drive the economy.”

For those of you not familiar with Citi Field, it opened adjacent to Shea Stadium (which no longer stands) in 2009. It encompasses 1.2 million total square feet and holds up to 41,922 fans at maximum capacity. Although it does not bask within the glamor of Manhattan, it stands steps away from the Citi Field-Willets Point stop on the New York City subway’s elevated No. 7 line. It is also accessible via the Long Island Railroad and water taxi.

Unlike 2008, the Mets will host all of the traditional All-Star events at Citi Field, including the State Farm Home Run Derby, the XM All-Star Futures Game and various community events. In 2008, the Yankees actually held Fan Fest in Manhattan. Mets Radio Broadcaster Howie Rose called the 2013 game a “five-day celebration of baseball.”

“By hosting the All-Star Game, New York City will be the center of the sports universe next summer,” Major League Baseball’s Executive Vice President of Business Timothy Brosnan told MLB.com. “We’ll work closely with the city to make sure that the All-Star Game is not only a celebration for baseball fans, but that we leave a legacy behind that says Major League Baseball, the New York Mets and the city of New York care about those in need.”

The Mets and Major League Baseball are promising a post-game legacy for the city and the game on a whole. Has that ever happened? The All-Star Game has gotten a lot of criticism over the years for being a relic of a bygone era. For a team, whose legacy has been questionable at best, making a provocative promise such as that has just made this upcoming year interesting.

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Murphy’s Law Part III: R.A. Dickey

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Murphy’s Law Part III: R.A. Dickey

Posted on 10 August 2012 by Trish Vignola

R.A. Dickey pitched a 6-1 gem against the Miami Marlins this afternoon. His complete game masterpiece was the 15th victory notch on his belt. He stopped Jose Reyes‘ 26-game hitting streak, which is kind of a conflict for me. As a Mets fan, who wouldn’t want to see Reyes get his comeuppance?

I’m not a sentimental idiot though. He was my first round fantasy draft pick. It seemed like such a good idea at the time.

Today ended a dreadful New York Mets’ nine-game home skid. ”That nine-game streak that was stopped today is more important than the 15 wins,” Dickey told the Associated Press (AP). Don’t worry, R.A. We didn’t like watching it either.

Dickey allowed five hits and struck out 10. It was the third straight spectacular outing for the knuckler, who is starting to make me wonder why his nickname isn’t “The Freak.” (Sorry, Tim Lincecum.) In his previous two starts, Dickey allowed only two earned runs combined.

Here’s my second conflict. I’m probably the most ardent Dickey fan (he’s on my roster as well). Nonetheless, I thought that his month long drought after the All-Star Break was the beginning of the end. Come on! We’re talking about the Mets here!

After that insane 12-1 start, he got played by Tony La Russa and his All Star politics. Coming out of the break, he was 2-2 in his next six starts. Now I am starting to think, could I have been wrong? As my fantasy baseball team slides down the tubes, is a New York Met actually not falling victim to Murphy’s Law (for once)?

Was last month actually an apparition?

Today’s weather in Flushing, Queens, was 89-degrees and hot. It was ideal weather for the fluttery pitch. Today marked the fourth complete game of the year for Dickey and eighth of his career. ”He’s got the feel for it back, again,” manager Terry Collins told the AP. ”All I can tell you is I hope the next eight starts are like this one.”

I’m sorry Terry. You can’t pitch him every day. Or can you?

Collins was prepared to ride his ace down the stretch. That’s right. Dickey is now considered the team’s ace. He wanted to go to Dickey on three days’ rest. However, that idea went out the window once the team essentially fell out of contention. The Mets have gone from 46-40 at the break to 54-58 after Thursday’s win.

Justin Ruggiano homered off Dickey in the fourth to tie it 1-all. Take away that and the Marlins have had little success against a pitcher, whose story makes “The Rookie” look pedestrian. Jose Reyes went 0 for 4. He twice stranded runners on third base and ending the longest hitting streak of his career.

I don’t even want to look at my team’s stats tonight.

Regarding today’s game, the holder of the best hitting streak in the majors this season could only mutter, ”Nothing close, nothing close.” Reyes took his bafflement into the field apparently. He lost a popup in the sun allowing the struggling Andres Torres to drive in the go-ahead run.

Torres homered off Josh Johnson in the sixth and got an RBI triple in the eighth after umpires went to replay to review whether the ball had left the park. If Torres has truly got his groove back and Dickey continues driving the National League to distraction, the last month and a half of the season is going to look far more palatable for the Mets.

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