Link: Gooden remembers Stottlemyre

In an interview with the New York Post, Dwight Gooden shared his memories of the late Mets pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre.

The Mets-Mariano Rivera Walkoff Trilogy

With Mariano Rivera’s well-deserved election to the Hall of Fame, let us remember that he was surprisingly mortal against his rivals from Queens. Rivera was 4-4 with a 3.53 ERA against the Mets in 34 regular-season appearances. He did have 20 saves, (plus two more in the 2000 World Series), but the Mets did walkoff against him three times. Each of the walkoff victories were seven years apart, from 1999 to 2013. Let’s rewind to those special days.

July 10, 1999

It was the second game of a three-game series at Shea Stadium. The game is commonly known as the Matt Franco Game in Mets’ lore, so named for pinch-hitter Matt Franco’s game-winning ninth-inning single off Mariano to win the game for the Mets 9-8. The starting pitching matchup featured Rick Reed for the Mets, and Andy Pettitte for the Yanks.

The game was a thrilling back-and-forth contest with five lead changes. The Yankees hit six home runs in defeat. Mike Piazza’s mammoth three-run homer off Ramiro Mendoza in the bottom of the seventh inning gave the Mets a 7-6 lead, but the Yanks reclaimed the lead, 8-7, in the eighth.

 

That was the score heading into the bottom of the ninth against Rivera. Rickey Henderson started a rally with a one-out walk, followed by a double by Edgardo Alfonzo. Bernie Williams had a chance to catch Alfonzo’s ball at the left center field wall, but missed it. After John Olerud grounded out to first, Mike Piazza was intentionally walked to load the bases.

Mets manager Bobby Valentine sent up the left-handed hitting Matt Franco to pinch-hit for Melvin Mora with the game on the line. After Franco took a borderline 0-2 pitch called low for a ball, he lined the next pitch into right field for a single. Henderson and Alfonzo scored to give the Mets the victory. Pat Mahomes was the winning pitcher for the Mets.

 

May 19, 2006

It was a Friday night, the first game of a three-game weekend series at Shea. The Yankees started Randy Johnson, while the Mets countered with Geremi Gonzalez. Gonzalez was a journeyman pitcher from Venezuela in the last year of a six-season major league career. He made only three career starts the Mets, and this was the worst of them. He surrendered six runs on nine hits in 3+ innings before being removed from the game after a leadoff double in the top of the fourth.

Despite the bad start, the Mets stayed in the game against Johnson. The key blows were a three-run homer by Carlos Beltran in the bottom of the first, and a two-run shot by Xavier Nady in the bottom of the third. Kaz Matsui tied the game at 6-6 with a single to left in the bottom of the fifth scoring David Wright.

 

The score stayed the same until the bottom of the ninth, when Rivera came into a tie game for the Yanks. Paul Lo Duca hit a one-out double, and Carlos Delgado was intentionally walked with two outs to bring up David Wright with runners on first and second. Wright hit it a 2-2 pitch over Johnny Damon’s head and onto the centerfield warning track to drive in Lo Duca for the win.

May 28, 2013

The Mets have by now moved into Citi Field, and this was the second of four straight games the Mets would sweep from the Bombers that season. Unlike the first two games in our trilogy, this one was a pitching duel. Matt Harvey, who was in prime form during his All-Star year, started for the Mets, opposed by Hiroki Kuroda for the Yankees.

Harvey held the Yanks to one run on six hits while striking out 10 in eight innings. However, the Mets trailed 1-0 entering the bottom of the ninth. Rivera, who was in the final year of his career, entered the game looking for the save. This time, Rivera was unable to even record an out before the Mets rallied for the victory.

Daniel Murphy led off with a ground-rule double to left. David Wright followed with a line-drive single to left center to drive in Murphy to tie the game. Then, Lucas Duda ended the contest with a single to right to score Wright and give the Mets a 2-1 win. The Amazin’s had walked off against Mariano Rivera for the third time in his glorious career.

In addition, the Mets defeated Mariano 3-0 in the 10th inning of a game at Yankee Stadium on July 7, 2001. Mike Piazza, Timo Perez and Todd Zeile all had RBI singles against him that day. So, he really was quite human against the Mets, which we are happy to remind you of on this great occasion.

Congratulations Mariano!

Podcast: Jacob Resnick

Mets Rewind presents Blue and Orange, a baseball podcast for Mets fans, by Mets fans. In our debut show we introduce you to Jacob Resnick, who has one of the most unique Mets fan experiences.

The Bad Guys Won

While the 2004 New York Mets were inside Shea Stadium getting pounded by the St. Louis Cardinals, Jeff Pearlman was in the parking lot spreading the word about the 1986 World Champion New York Mets.

Pearlman, author of The Bad Guys Won which chronicles the ’86 Mets wild ride both on and off the field, spent his Thursday afternoon slapping promotional flyers for his book on the windshields of Met fans cars with the help of a couple friends.

This was not Harper Collins’ idea, it was writer’s brainchild.

For Pearlman, a lifelong Mets fan, the grass roots public relations efforts have already paid dividends. Released on April 27, The Bad Guys Won broke the New York Times Top 30 bestsellers list. Impressive? It’s Pearlman’s first book.

The Bad Guys Won reads like a modern day Ball Four filled with behind-the-scenes tales of one of baseball’s wildest teams. In a phone interview from his home in upstate New York, Pearlman said he started the project without an agenda.

“I didn’t go into this book with an idea that it could be about a wholesome baseball team,” said Pearlman.

“I knew they were a wild bunch. But I certainly didn’t have any pre-conceived notion … I didn’t know what the stories would be, I didn’t know how the book would play out, it was mostly a blank page for me.”

It may have started as a blank page but the final product will surprise even the most diehard Met fans. From the opening chapter titled “Food Flight,” a 10-page tale of the post game mayhem on the trip from Houston to New York after the Mets won the 1986 National League Championship Series 7-6 in 16 innings, the offbeat stories, breathe life into Mets history.

“If you look at ‘Ball Four’ (by Jim Bouton) and ‘The Bronx Zoo’ (by Sparky Lyle), those books have done extremely well,” Pearlman said. “I am sure Yankee fans were cringing when they read those books. I think people, more than anything, are just fascinated by what goes on behind-the-scenes.”

The Bad Guys Won is not a “tell-all” book. It offers no scandal, no accusations, no smoking gun. It’s a 287-page collection of entertaining tales – true tales – from inside a chasmpionship team. It’s a healthy departure from today’s bombshell offerings in print.

Pearlman, who spent six years covering baseball for Sports Illustrated including his controversial story in 1999 on former Braves pitcher John Rocker, spent 2 ½ years researching and writing The Bad Guys Won. He interviewed 29 of the 33 members of the 1986 New York Mets including Gary Carter, Keith Hernandez, Mookie Wilson, Len Dykstra, Ray Knight, Howard Johnson, Wally Backman, Kevin Mitchell, Jesse Orosco and Ron Darling.

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In The Bad Guys Won the real stories from 1986 Mets are narrated by a lesser known core of Mets players and team employees. “To me, the best reporting comes when you talk to the people who haven’t been asked about these things a million times … the clubhouse guys, the equipment guys, the Doug Sisk’s and Randy Niemann’s and the Terry Leaches, guys like that. That’s where you get the real stories that haven’t been told.

“I was ripped in a column up here in a column in the Bergen Record, asking, how could you not talk to Dwight Gooden!?,” said Pearlman.

“My answer is two-fold: one, I made every effort to talk to him but more importantly, when I set out to do this book, I knew that the key to writing a good book like this, is not about talking to the superstars. That includes Hernandez and Carter, Gooden, Strawberry, because those guys have told these stories 8,000 times.”

Despite repeated efforts, Strawberry and Gooden, frankly the most-recognized members of the 1986 Mets team, were not on the record, but they are in the book. “Strawberry was in jail and refused to talk,” said Pearlman.” … and Gooden refused to talk.

“It’s an interesting thing because I called his agent and he came back and said, Dwight’s not interested. Then I called Gooden at his Tampa office number two or three times and never got a call back,” Pearlman recalls. “Then I saw Gooden in person and mentioned it to him and he told me he was interested and that I should call him in Tampa. I called him a bunch more times and he didn’t return any of my calls.”

“Number two, to be totally honest, I didn’t consider Gooden or Strawberry to be totally reliable sources. There track track records don’t speak real well for their truthfulness in these areas. I always think it sounds bad, and I always need to explain it, but the truth of the matter, in some ways the book may be better for it, because I feel it’s a more honest book.”

The fact that Pearlman never talked to Gooden or Strawberry doesn’t seem to matter. In the first 30 days of the books release, fans are consuming The Bad Guys Won fast and furious.

Pearlman has been on a promotional parade since the book was released. His appearance on the FOX sports/talk television show “The Best Damn Sports Show,” set the stage for his first face-to-face appearance with a member of the 1986 New York Mets in the wake of the release.

“I showed up and Ron Darling was doing it with me,” said Pearlman. “The first thing he said to me when he saw me was, ‘That book was eerily accurate.’ It was my greatest moment since this book came out.” Darling told Pearlman he read the book twice.

No one from the 1986 New York Mets has denied any of the stories reported in the book but some of the characterizations apparently ruffled feathers. “Lenny Dykstra was supposed to be on the show (FOX’s “The Best Damn Sports Show”) too and he refused to do it because he was angry about the book,” said Pearlman. “I guess he didn’t like how he was portrayed.”

And why would he? The same applies for Hernandez, Strawberry, Gooden, Sisk, Heep, even Mets manager Davey Johnson, who turned his head when the Mets off-field antics surfaced. He would shrug it off and say, “boys will be boys.”

The Mets behavior in 1986 is no secret. They were great on the field – and they are proud of it. They were bad off-the-field – and they don’t apologize for it.

Now, 18 years after the Mets dream season, Pearlman’s book reminds us the Mets were the bad guys. “The Bad Guys Won is a quote from Davey Johnson,” said Pearlman. “When the Mets won the World Series he was asked by someone whether the country would appreciate the Mets and he said, ‘I don’t think so because the bad guys won.”

Fractured Prospect

Terry Collins remembers flying back from the team’s complex in the Dominican Republic. It was February 2009, and the future New York Mets manager was feeling hopeful about Fernando Martinez. Collins watched Martinez play pain-free in the first game of a doubleheader before catching his flight back to the States. Maybe, just maybe, this was the turning point in the career of the Mets top prospect.

“When I got off the flight I had a message: he’s hurt again,” Collins shook his head in disbelief.

The injury was not the first Martinez suffered, and in hindsight, wouldn’t be the last. Since signing with the Mets in July 2005, a deal that included a $1.4 million signing bonus, Martinez has been on the disabled list nine times. His afflictions could be tallied by the body part – knee, elbow, hand, hamstring, lower back.

The $1.4 million question became: Could Fernando Martinez stay healthy long enough to play?

”That’s the goal, to keep him on the field,” said Buffalo manager Tim Teufel. “We know he has talent; it’s just a matter of keeping him healthy.”

The Mets and Martinez were hopeful a fresh start would bring good health and good fortune. The following spring, Martinez played in 10 games, batting .333 (8-for-24). Still, the Mets wanted him to prove he could perform at a high level and, more importantly, stay healthy. He carried his hot bat north to Buffalo with a four-hit game the first week of the season. One week later, Martinez was sent back to the disabled list with a sore hamstring.

“It’s not that you doubt the talent,” said assistant GM John Ricco. “It’s getting the [at-bats]. If not, that’s in the equation. Angel Pagan was a similar case. Everybody knew he had the talent, but you start to say, ‘OK, how long can we go?’ At some point he’s going to have to stay healthy.”

“He’s worth every penny,” Sandy Johnson, Mets’ VP for scouting, told the Times. “He’s a complete player.”

Baseball America ranked Martinez the No. 20 prospect. By last season he was at No. 77 on the list and headed south. One injury after another, year after year, deflated Martinez’ stock value. The Wall Street Journal called him “the forgotten prospect … no one is frothing over him anymore.”

“Sometimes I say, ‘Come on, what happened?’” Martinez said. “What happened to me? I play very hard. I’m young. Maybe all the injuries will stop one day.”

The injuries left him hobbled by arthritis in his right knee, a history that presents potential problems in the future. Ken Oberkfell, who managed him in Buffalo for two years said, “It’s been a leg issue with most of the stuff, so it’s slowed down his defensive development and his offensive development. You use your legs a lot to hit and obviously you use your legs a lot to play the outfield.”

“It’s really hard to project what these guys are going to be, whether or not they’re going to stay healthy,” said Paul DePodesta, the Mets’ former vice president of player development and amateur scouting. “To be honest, we’re not real good at it as an industry.”

The waiting game ended in January 2012, when the Mets released Martinez. He never played a full season, at any level, due to recurring injuries. Since making his major league debut in 2009 (at age 20), he Martinez played in 99 major league games, compiling 282 career at-bats and a .206 batting average.

###

POST SCRIPT: Martinez was signed by the Houston Astros, where he parts of two seasons before be traded to the New York Yankees. Six weeks after the deal, Martinez was suspended 50 games by the MLB for violating its drug policy. Today he plays for the Estrellas Orientales, the team from San Pedro de Macoris in the  Dominican Republic.

Winter Blues for Claire

We all make mistakes. The problem with making a mistake if you’re Bill Buckner or Scott Norwood or even Fred Claire is, it happens on the world stage for all to see.

Coincidentally, Claire’s miscues from the general manager’s chair have intersected at some point in history, with current or former members of the New York Mets. It’s like six degrees of separation, but not.

With the Winter Meetings come and gone and the New Year here, once again the ghosts of winters past will pay a visit to Claire.

It started in 1990 when the Los Angeles Dodgers signed free agent right fielder Darryl Strawberry away from the Mets. “No free agent had more talent that Darryl Strawberry,” wrote Claire in his book, My 30 Years in Dodger Blue. “But there are no championship stories to be written about Darryl as a Dodger.”

To Claire’s credit, at the time, the signing of Strawberry to a five-year deal was celebrated. The former Met was already an eight-year major league veteran at age 28 and was coming off a productive season in New York, hitting 37 HR and 107 RBI. It was believed Strawberry’s best days were in front of him.

Strawberry, a California native and Crenshaw High School graduate, was coming home when he signed in Los Angeles. No one, including Claire, could have predicted the nightmare that lie ahead for Strawberry.

After a productive 1991 season, it was all down hill for Strawberry. Between 1992 and 1993, the Dodgers right fielder played in 75 games. He suffered through numerous injuries and off-the-field bigger problems were brewing.

“It came to a breaking point at our final exhibition game at Anaheim Stadium in April of 1994,” Claire recalls. “Darryl failed to show up for our Sunday game.

“I told the media I didn’t know where Darryl was. It was obvious I was upset. The only feeling greater than my anger was my concern about Darryl’s whereabouts. Finally that evening, I received a call from Darryl.

“Fred,” he said, “I just want you to know I’m OK, and I will be with the team tomorrow.”

“No, Darryl, you won’t be with the team,” Claire said. “I want to meet with you tomorrow morning because we have come to an end of the road. You failed to show the responsibility that is needed to be part of our team. You can bring any representatives you care to have with you.”

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The next day Strawberry and his lawyer Robert Shapiro arrived at the Dodgers offices. Shapiro wasted no time, telling Claire, “We want you to know that Darryl has a problem with substance abuse. We have talked to the Players’ Association about getting assistance for Darryl.”

Shapiro’s efforts to salvage Strawberry’s career in Los Angeles were too late. Claire had already made a decision in the best interest of the Dodger organization to cut ties with Strawberry and the trail of personal problems accompanying him.

As Claire recalled, Strawberry sat in the Dodgers offices with tears streaming down his face.

“Fred, I feel sorry that I let you and the Dodgers down,” he said.

Claire’s Winter blues reached it’s peak on November 17, 1993, the day he traded Pedro Martinez(now the ace of the Mets staff), then 22, to the Montreal Expos for second baseman Delino DeShields. Claire recalls the misery so well he dedicated a full chapter to it in his book.

“There’s one baseball trade … where I wish I could have had a second chance,” wrote Claire, “That trade, of course, was the one that sent Pedro Martinez to the Montreal Expos … in exchange for second baseman Delino DeShields.”

The Dodgers needed a second baseman, and before trading Martinez, Claire made a three-year, $7.8 million offer to Jody Reed. Instead of taking the deal, Reed tested the free agent market and the Dodgers pulled the offer. Claire later considered free agents Harold Reynoldsand Robby Thompson. Reynolds, then 33, was not a long-term solution and Thompson re-signed with the San Francisco Giants before the Dodgers could make a serious bid.

With Reed still on the open market, Claire decided to look elsewhere anyway. After learning about DeShields availability and the Expos asking price (Martinez), Claire picked up the phone.

“I made two calls before moving forward with the deal,” said Claire, “One to Tommy Lasordaand one to Ralph Avila, the man in charge of our baseball operations in the Dominican Republic. I told both men they had veto rights on the trade. Both agreed it was a good deal for the Dodgers in that we would solve our problem at second with an outstanding young player.”

In three full seasons with the Dodgers, DeShields hit .240, playing in just 89 games in 1994, his first year with Los Angeles. He retired after the 2002 season with a career .268 batting average, hitting a career high .296 for the Baltimore Orioles in 2000.

Martinez spent four years in Montreal compiling a 55-33 record, striking out 222 batters in 1996 and 305 in 1997. It was his final year with Montreal that he made his mark with a 17-8 record, a 1.90 ERA, 305 strikeouts, 13 complete games in 241 innings pitched for a team that finished the season under .500 (78-84). Martinez signed with the Red Sox in 1998 and the rest is history … a career record of 197-84, 2.72 ERA, 2,861 career strikeouts, two 20-game winning seasons and, of course, three Cy Young Awards (1997, 1999 and 2000).

In reflection, Claire wrote, “The deal was made. There are no mulligans in baseball.”

The final strike was the trade of Mike Piazza, a deal that shocked Los Angeles, its fans, the baseball community and Claire himself. It was a trade that subsequently led to Claire’s departure as Dodgers general manager.

The Piazza story is a great story for baseball fans, not so much for Claire. “The deal which sent Piazza and third baseman Todd Zeile to the Marlins … was struck without even the courtesy of informing me, the Dodger general manager.”

It was a sign of the times for the Dodgers. They had just been bought by Fox television from the legendary, and longtime baseball family, the O’Malley’s. To this day, as Claire tells it, the trade that sent Piazza out of Los Angeles was “first and foremost a television deal” constructed and executed by Fox TV executive Chase Carey.

As the 1998 baseball season approached, Piazza was heading for his final season under contract when Fox assumed control of the Dodgers. “The last thing Fox wanted was a bidding war over Mike,” wrote Claire, “and the embarrassing possibility that the team’s most popular player would choose to depart … Incredibly, they managed to make it an even worse start.”

The transition in ownership delayed talks between Piazza and the Dodgers. So much so, spring training came and went with no deal, infuriating Piazza. The future Hall of Fame catcher finally exploded.

After an Opening Day loss in St. Louis, Piazza was approached by Jason Reid of the Los Angeles Times about the contract talks. Piazza lashed out, telling Reid, “… I am confused and disappointed by the whole thing. I’m mad that this dragged into the season and that it now has become the potential to become a distraction … How can I not think about this?”

Claire was miffed to learn of Piazza’s public comments and requested to meet with him before the next day’s game. The general manager and the star met privately at Busch Stadium.

“I want to get this contract settled or I want out of here,” Piazza told Claire. “You guys are low-balling me!”

“First of all, Mike, we are not low-balling you,” Claire said. “ … your statements on Opening Day were not good for you or this team. I’m disappointed in you. We’re just starting out the season. We don’t need that bullshit.”

“I want to know what you guys want to do,” Piazza snapped back. “Either sign me or get me out of here.”

Less than a week later the Dodgers made Piazza a contract offer: six years, $81 million. Piazza’s agent Dan Lozano countered with seven years, $105 million. The Dodgers balked. No deal. Piazza shut down negotiations.

May 14, 1998: As the Dodgers and Phillies played at Dodger Stadium, Claire received a phone call from team president Bob Graziano, who was in the Dominican Republic. Graziano informed Claire, “Fred, we made a trade that needs to be announced tonight,” he said. “We have acquired Gary SheffieldCharles JohnsonBobby Bonilla and Jim Eisenreich for Mike Piazza and Todd Zeile.”

Claire later recalls thinking to himself, “Talk about stunning news,” he wrote. “Here I was, general manager of the Dodgers, being informed of a trade already consummated … I could barely believe what I was hearing.”

Claire told Graziano, “Bob, there will be two announcements tonight, because I will have an announcement on my status … after this trade, you don’t need me.”

In retrospect, the deal was never announced that night. Bonilla’s no-trade clause had to be waived before the deal could be finalized. He did and Claire’s living nightmare became a reality. After the announcement was made at a press conference at Dodger Stadium by the team’s public relations director Derrick Hall, Claire told the media, “I want to be perfectly clear on how I learned of this trade. I received a telephone call from Bob Graziano in the Dominican Republic.”

Afterward, Florida Marlin general manager Dave Dombrowski said, “I felt bad from Fred’s perspective, but we all get caught up in situations we can not control” he said. “But the circumstances of that trade, with Fred not being included at all, were one of the most unusual I’ve seen in my career.”

Claire admits his public statements eventually cost him his job with the Dodgers, a harsh, abrupt end to a long and successful tenure.