RIP Pete Flynn

If you grew up at Shea Stadium in the 1980s as I did then you couldn’t help but know who Pete Flynn was. It’s not every team that has a Hall of Fame groundskeeper but the Mets did. Who could forget when fans tore up the field the night the Mets clinched the division in 1986? But Flynn and his team had the field ready to play when the eventual 1986 World Champions played the Cubs again the next afternoon.

Flynn passed away Wednesday after a long illness. Though he retired in 2011 made it possible for the Mets to do their work since 1962. Flynn was behind all the memories – the highlights and the many lowlights – the team produce from it’s inception until he retired. Thank you, Pete. And rest in peace.

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Knicks: Blame Dolan, Not Just Jackson

Phil Jackson has been taking a lot of heat as president of the New York Knicks this year. The current flap about Kristaps Porzingis is just the latest in a list of controversies Jackson has had to deal with. But as bad as things are going for the Knicks I still find it hard to blame Jackson to the extent hat he’s being blamed by most fans. I hold team owner James Dolan even more responsible than Jackson.

Just look at Dolan’s track record since taking control of the team. In 1999, the year Dolan took over, president Ernie Grunfeld left the team. Depending on who you talk with he was either fired or resigned, but either way this was a harbinger of things to come. Donnie Walsh and Glen Grunwald were two very well respected basketball men who couldn’t make things work under Dolan either.

Head coach Jeff Van Gundy resigned just 19 games into the 2001-02 season. Lenny Wilkins, one of the winningest coaches in NBA history and a Hall of Famer, resigned in 2005 after coaching parts of 2 seasons. Larry Brown, another Hall of Famer, only lasted one season. Mike D’Antoni resigned in 2012 after not being able to run games the way he wanted.

And we haven’t even spoken about the disaster that was Isiah Thomas.

Yes, the Knicks are in turmoil right now and it looks like Jackson isn’t the savior that many thought he would be when he joined the team. But when you look at the track record under Dolan you have to wonder what may be going on behind the scenes between the owner and basketball operations and how he may really be responsible for what the team has been going through.

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Torre Agrees That Rizzo Broke Posey Rule

Apparently Joe Torre read what I wrote yesterday. Just kidding. I know very few people did. But nonetheless he agreed with me that Anthony Rizzo broke the Buster Posey rule that protects catchers on plays at home plate.

Torre, MLBs Chief Baseball Officer, let Rizzo off with a warning after sliding into Austin Hedges in front of home plate on a close play. While Torre told Rizzo he broke the rule he also said there would be no discipline… this time.

In a related story, Padres manager Andy Green said he would not instruct his pitchers to throw at Rizzo in retaliation for the slide. Green spoke very strongly about the slide and it was thought retaliation was inevitable. But when speaking to the media before Wednesday’s game Green said “For me, you assess risk and retaliation, and you wanted to put some trust in Major League Baseball to do some things at that point in time. The reality is, when you throw at a guy in retaliation, you’re not really protecting anybody. That’s a simple fact.” This effectively defuses what could have turned into a very ugly situation.

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Posey Rule Tested With Rizzo-Hedges Collision

Rule 7.13: “A runner may not run out of a direct line to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher.”

This is the so called Buster Posey rule implemented after a home plate collision ended the season of the San Francisco Giants catcher a few years ago. The application of this rule is under debate throughout the baseball world today after Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo ran into Padres catcher Austin Hedges. The rule itself has been a source of debate since it’s implementation with some arguing that it dumbs down the game and others saying that it evens things up for the catcher who is very often blindsided on home plate collisions. Regardless of which side of the rule you’re on (for or against) this play needs to be seen keeping the exact words of the rule in mind.

For those who haven’t seen it here’s the play:

The question here is did Rizzo stay in a “direct line to the plate”? If he did, as the umpire saw it, then there is nothing wrong with the play. But based on the angle of this video it looks like Rizzo is actually running on the infield side of the plate. In fact the contact is initiated in front of the plate. If he were on a direct line with the plate he would have been slightly behind the catcher who would have had to turn around to attempt to tag him. One could argue that if Rizzo was running on the foul territory side of the baseline, which is where base runners usually run, he would be on more of a direct line and could have touched home plate without such a harsh level of contact with Hedges. Based on this Rizzo violated the rule. (He was called out at the plate anyway so I don’t know what the penalty for breaking this rule would be.)

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As It Should Be

News broke this morning that as part of the new collective bargaining agreement between MLP and the MLBPA the All-Star game will no longer determine which leagues representative in the World Series will have home field advantage as it has for the last 14 season. The rule was established to make the All-Star game more competitive but it was a silly rule to have in place for an exhibition game. Home field advantage in the World Series will now go to the pennant winning team with the better regular season record.

This actually fixes two bad rules in one move. First, obviously, the relationship of meaningful games being determined by an exhibition game. But second is the determination of home field advantage in the World Series.

Even before the All-Star game rule the rule for determining home field advantage in the World Series was broken. Through 2002 home field was rotated between both leagues (American and National) every year. This is almost as silly as the All-Star game rule and was actually unfair to teams that achieved better win-loss records on their way to the World Series.

With this rule change home field advantage in the World Series will go to the team that actually earns it. This move is good for competition and good for the game.

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Welcome Back, Cespedes

The signing of Yoenis Cespedes signals the start of the 2017 season. With this signing the Mets are saying they are looking at this season as one in which they will try to win as opposed to one in which they will rebuild.

Cespedes gives the Mets the heavy bat in the middle of the order that’s needed to compete but also gives the Mets flexibility with which to make a deal for another need due to a glut of outfielders. Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson, Michael Conforto and Juan Lagares are the other outfielders the Mets have that are of starting quality. It appears the Mets would be most likely to trade Bruce or Granderson. Both are entering the walk years in their contracts and could fetch some value on the market. The Mets could use some relief help so this could be how they get it.

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Mets Rotation Inexperienced

An important thing to remember with regard to the Mets starting pitching heading into the 2016 season: this rotation is still very inexperienced on the Major league level.

Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler both pitched parts of 2 seasons (albeit large parts) before succumbing to Tommy John surgery. Harvey is only one season into his post surgery career and Wheeler isn’t even scheduled to return to game action until July. Jacob DeGrom has been great but is coming off his first full season. Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz are both headed into their first full season. Bartolo Colon has a wealth of experience but the rest of this rotation will still be learning about themselves throughout the season.

Last season was great for all of these pitches (except, of course, for Wheeler) and is certainly reason to be excited and optimistic for 2016. And the Mets seem to be optimistic enough about their prospects for success this season to bring back Yoenis Cespedes to start the season instead of waiting for the trade deadline to see if it’s worth it to bring in a big bat.

There’s reason to be optimistic but let’s not get over confident.

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Utley Play Hard But Clean

As a Mets fan I hate what happened to Ruben Tejada on Saturday night. Tejada was taken out on a hard slide by Chase Utley. Utley was trying to break up a double play but slid into Tejada’s plant leg and not only took him out of the play but took him out of the season. Tejada suffered a broken leg.

After some deliberation Utley was suspended for 2 games (games 3 and 4 of the NLDS to be played tonight and tomorrow night). Utley is appealing the suspension and MLB is hoping to hear the appeal today so they can finalize a decision before game time.

I’m going to take what will probably be an unpopular stance as a Mets fan and say that Utley should not be suspended. Was the slide hard? Yes. Was it against the rules? No.

I don’t like that Utley slid so hard. I don’t like that Tejada got hurt. But these kinds of slides have been happening since the game was created. There is nothing in the rules that prevents them. As long as the runner is in the baseline, which at second base is defined as being within arms reach of the base, the runner can do what he wants. There is an exception when there is intent to injure but I don’t think this was Utley’s intention. The fact that Utley didn’t end up touching the base does not prove intent to injure. Utley mere meant to take Tejada out of the play.

Though I don’t think there was anything against the rules with the play I do think this case should lead MLB to reexamine the rules for plays at second base this offseason. Considering the possibility of injury on such plays it is comparable to plays at home plate. When San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey was injured in a home plate collision the rules for those plays were reviewed and revised. I would hope that MLB will likewise review the rules at 2nd base (and even 3rd base) and revise them if necessary.

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Still No Expectations

Matthew Cerrone at Metsblog wrote a post this morning that I had intended to write. The gist of the post is that the season is fraught with challenges and losing two of three to the Yankees over the weekend presents one such challenge. That challenge is: how will this team rebound from the adversity of underperforming against the Yankees?

On the plus side for the Mets is that they have a 4.5 game lead in the division and are 9 games over .500 at this early stage of the season. These are accomplishments that nobody expected and likewise nobody expects them to hold onto as the season continues. This lack of expectations removes much of the pressure first place teams normally experience. It enables the team to band together with a “let’s prove them wrong” rally call.

Another advantage is playing a three game set against the Marlins this week before squaring off against the Washington Nationals next weekend, a team with big expectations that has struggled early this season. The Marlins provide an opportunity for the Mets to rebound and regain their confidence before the Nationals raid CitiField.

I’m still optimistic for this team. But, as always, cautiously so.

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Optimism After 10 Games

I know it’s only 10 games into a 162 game season but I must say that it was nice waking up this morning in a world where the Mets are in first place. Starting the season winning 2 out of 3 from the Washington Nationals (who are 4-4 since that series) was exciting for Mets fans considering the Nationals are odds on favorites to win the division. But even with the drop in competition since that series – the Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies and Miami Marlins – the team put together a 5-2 stretch that is rare for recent Mets teams. And with 6 more games against Marlins and Braves over the next 7 days things are looking good for the team for another week before meeting the Yankees next weekend.

It hasn’t come without it’s negative repercussions. Injuries to Jenrry Mejia and David Wright will make the next few weeks more challenging. Mejia’s role as closer will be capably filled by Jeurys Familia, who may be the better choice for the job anyway (but that’s a different discussion), and will be up for a challenge later in the season when Bobby Parnell returns. The loss of Wright will be of obviously bigger impact. His replacement, Eric Campbell, will be hard pressed to replace the production of Wright. (Yes, I know he doesn’t really have to.)

But despite these negatives I’m still optimistic, a feeling Mets fans have already abandoned 10 games into the season in recent years.

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