The rich get richer… and baseball gets poorer

The rich get richer and baseball loses a little more of its luster. The Yankees add Lance Berkman, Austin Kearns and Kerry Wood. Only the Yankees could afford to sit Kearns on the bench. At least Seattle played the bombers with Cliff Lee. Yankee fans though are still mourning the fact that they didn’t land Lee, Haran and that they missed out on Joe Mauer. Until baseball wakes up and institutes a payroll ceiling and floor, it’s hard to take it serious.

When baseball adds another wild card team for each league, I’ve got the system for determining the play-off teams for the American League. The three division winners, the non-division winner with the best record, and the Yankees (or the non-division winner with the second best record if the Yankees win their division or the other Wild Card). This will guarantee that the Yankees are in the post-season every year which will keep TV happy and will provide the Yankee fans with their annual entitlement.

Money may not guarantee a championship, however, it can close to guarantee regular post-season appearances. That’s not to say that spending a lot of money guarantees success – see the Fred Wilpon’s New York Mets. It’s also not to say that you can’t win without spending a lot of money. But look what has happened to the once proud franchises such as the Kansas City Royals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Baltimore Orioles, et al.

I’m also tired or hearing how the Mets and Red Sox payrolls are up there as well. There’s really not a comparison with the Yankees. Look at the 2009 payrolls:

Team 2009 Payroll
Yankees $201,449,189
Mets $149,373,987
Cubs $134,809,000
Red Sox $121,745,999
Tigers $115,085,145
Angels $113,709,000
Phillies $113,004,046
Astros $102,996,414
Dodgers $100,414,592
Mariners $98,904,166
Braves $96,726,166
White Sox $96,068,500
Giants $82,616,450
Indians $81,579,166
Blue Jays $80,538,300
Brewers $80,182,502
Cardinals $77,605,109
Rockies $75,201,000
Reds $73,558,500
Diamondbacks $73,516,666
Royals $70,519,333
Rangers $68,178,798
Orioles $67,101,666
Twins $65,299,266
Rays $63,313,034
Athletics $62,310,000
Nationals $60,328,000
Pirates $48,693,000
Padres $43,734,200
Marlins $36,834,000

The Yankees salary was 35% more than the Mets or more than the entire payroll of the Pirates, Padres and Marlins. The Yankees payroll was more than double than 20 of the other MLB teams (all teams from the Dodgers, 9th on the list, on down) and more than the Nationals, Pirates, Padres and Marlins combined! It was 5.5x the Marlins payroll! So if anyone tells you that baseball is fair…

Money doesn’t always = success, however, “no money” = can’t complete on a regular basis!

The Inaugural Hall of Fame Classic Weekend

Where better to spend Father’s Day Weekend other than Cooperstown? The weather was questionable at best, but it couldn’t dampen the spirits for the those attending the Inaugural Hall of Fame Classic weekend. Unfortunately, the final Hall of Fame Game was rained out last year. At times it looked that the same fate was in store for the Inaugural Hall of Fame Classic. In the end, some of the best weather of the weekend was saved for the game.

My sons, Bobby and Dan, and I headed up to Cooperstown on Friday. We started off the weekend by attending opening night for the Oneonta Tigers of the New York-Penn League at historic Damaschke Field. It was a beautiful night for a game and we saw a very well pitched game that resulted in a 2-0 Tigers win over the Tri-City Valley Cats. In a pre-game ceremony, former owners Sam Nader and Sid Levine (of five decades) were honored. Bill Monbouquette, former major league pitcher and former Oneonta pitching coach was on hand as well. It was a great way to start the weekend.

Saturday morning was overcast and threatening. We strolled Main Street, checking out the many stores until it was time for us to head to Doubleday Field for our chance to participate in the Family Catch. There we met my Friend Vin Polito and his sons, Nick and Steve who had just arrived. Through a few raindrops, we had out 20 minute catch in the outfield. The event was popular and well organized. Although my reflexes may not be quite a quick as they used to (right Bob and Dan) we had a great time. Nothing that a little bruise or two would lessen. Playing catch with my two grown sons on Doubleday Field on Father’s Day Weekend was a wonderful gift. There’s only one other game of catch that I can think of that was more memorable. That was the game of catch that the boys and I had with my wife, Cathy on the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, IA.

After the catch, the Ratzenbergers and Politos went to the visit the Hall where we spent the entire afternoon. There’s always something new to see as well as things you look forward to seeing again and again. I can always find something to spend time checking out. I have to admit that this is my favorite museum – big surprise. Of course there are the mandatory stops, Tom Seaver’s plaque and the Mets Locker. Although, the visit to the Mets’ locker provided the only negative of the entire weekend – Tom Glavine’s jersey hanging in the Mets’ locker. Tom Glavine, really? There wasn’t any other Met jersey that they could have hanging in there? To me Glavine’s career with the Mets was highlighted by his 2007 season finale that he mailed in. It kind of reminded me of the Mets tributes as Citi Field. Well, enough about that. I want to focus on all of the positives.

In the evening, we attended a Legends of the Game event in the Grandstand Theater. This event was a question and answer session with Hall of Famers Bob Feller, Brooks Robinson, Phil Niekro and Paul Molitor. Ferguson Jenkins was originally scheduled to appear but was unable to attend. It was a fast moving hour that provided both insight and humor. This is the 3rd such event that I have attended and I would recommend that any baseball fan that has the opportunity to attend one should not pass it up. You won’t regret it.

Sunday morning it was back to Main Street for the parade. We arrived early and spent a couple of hours scouring the many shops lining the street. I never understood the idea of window shopping until I came here. I could look for hours and even if I don’t purchase anything, it’s still an enjoyable time. As 12:00 approached, we strategically positioned ourselves to watch the parade. Although the crowd seemed smaller than last year and the parade appeared to be a little scaled back, it was still a lot of fun. The best way to describe it is a small town parade with a little panache. The parade closes with two trolleys carrying the players to the stadium.

Prior to the game was a hitting contest which was, not surprisingly won by youngster Jeff Kent. He beat out Steve Finley in the finals. It was also nice to see George Foster knock one out of Doubleday Field.

The game itself was a blast. Where else could you see Paul Molitor lead off against 90 year-old Bob Feller or Brooks Robinson lead-off against Phil Niekro? In a little huddle before the 1st pitch, Molitor apparently agreed not to bunt or hit one up the middle while Feller agreed not to throw him any chin music. Molitor did however, get the best of the at bat with a single and later scored the 1st run. After his outing, Feller said that he was “throwing as hard as he ever did, but the ball just wasn’t going as fast”.

The game had a sandlot feel to it and delivered a little bit of everything.

  1. Bobby Grich tried the old hidden ball trick to try to pick off Steve Lyons, but to no avail.
  2. After hitting a ground ball, Jon Warden called timeout halfway to 1st base. It didn’t keep him from being called out though.  Phil Niekro tried the same trick a little later in the game and it didn’t work for him either.
  3. Warden was the designated clown as he brought a water pistol to the player  introductions, donned a clown wig, used 5 or 6 bats to loosen up and tried a called shot (but didn’t deliver).
  4. Steve Lyons recruited help from the stands, bringing 11 year-old Zach D’Errico out to shortstop with him. D’Errico then proceeded in starting a 6-4-3 double play.
  5. Bill “Spaceman” Lee was impressive in the outfield, at the plate, on the base paths and on the mound.

Molitor and Teams Collins jumped out to a 4-0 lead but with 1 in the 5th and 4 in the 6th, Brooks Robinson and Team Wagner came back to win the inaugural Hall of Fame Classic. Can’t wait until next year!

Pictures from the events can be found at my website:

Oneonta Tigers Game

Family Catch

Legends of the Game

Parade

Warm-ups and hitting contest

Hall of Fame Classic

All-time PED Team

I was perusing the All-star ballot and was surprised how many players that have either been suspended for, admitted to, or have strong suspicions of using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). I thought wouldn’t it just serve MLB right if some or all of these layers were voted to the All-star team. It would certainly lead to an uncomfortable situation for the King of Baseball who resided over the steroid era, Bud Selig.

The following are my votes to the PED All-star teams:

National League

First Base: Albert Pujols (OK maybe a bit of a stretch here)

Shortstop: Miguel Tejada

Outfield: Rick Ankiel, Manny Ramirez

American League

First Base: Jason Giambi

Third Base: Alex Rodriguez

Catcher: Gregg Zaun

Outfield: Magglio Ordonez

I couldn’t complete a team, but that got me thinking. What would the All-time PED team be. Here I had a lot to chose from. Since I went out on a limb with Albert Pujols on the All-star ballot, I’ve left him off the All-time team, but if more substantiation, he’s right there. Anyway, see what you think.

All-time Team

First Base: Mark McGwire

Second Base: Chuck Knoblauch

Shortstop: Miguel Tejada

Third Base: Alex Rodriguez

Catcher: Ivan Rodriguez

Outfield: Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield

Designated Hitter: Rafael Palmiero

Starting Pitcher: Roger Clemens, Andy Pettite, Kevin Brown, Chuck Finley, Denny Neagle

Relief Pitcher: Eric Gagne, John Rocker, Kent Mercker, Mike Stanton

Bench: Jose Canseco, Juan Gonzalez, Magglio Ordonez, Sammy Sosa, Ken Caminiti, Paul Lo Duca, Lenny Dykstra

The Return of the Curse of the Bambino (Reversed)

When the Yankees first announced that they were going to build a new stadium, my wife, Cathy had an epiphany. The thought came to her as she wondered what would be the future of the old Yankee stadium. We talked about her thought with friends and as the plans for old Yankee stadium developed, it seemed to become more and more plausible. The initial plans for the stadium was to remove the upper deck keeping the rest of the stadium intact as a museum/playing field. Later it was announced that the entire stadium would be demolished. After a recent visit to the new Yankee stadium, catching a view of the upper deck with the seats removed, her thoughts echoed in my head.

For decades, there was the Curse of the Bambino, the purported curse that kept the Red Sox from winning the World Series. Then in 2004, after 86 years, the Red Sox finally broke through and captures the World Series. They did so again in 2006 and have now won more championships in this millennium than any other team – more than even the storied Yankees. The curse had been broken.

But what does that have to do with Cathy’s epiphany? Well, think of it as reversing the Curse. In its new incarnation, the big Bambino (who almost single-handedly saved baseball from the Black Sox scandal) isn’t so happy that the Yankees have decided to raze the House that he built. When the Yankees announced plans for a New Yankee stadium in June 2005, the Curse was revided and reversed and will result in the Yankees not winning a championship in this millennium.

Don’t buy it? Well who’d have believed that a Yankee team with a $209 million payroll ($71 million more than the next biggest spender) that was in the playoffs for more than a decade would lose the division to a Tampa Bay team with a $43 million payroll (ranked #29) and not even make the playoffs. For me, I’m sold.

On the Road – Chasing a Win

Well, in helping my friend Wes complete his quest, we decided to take a quick jaunt down to Nationals Park to help him cross another one off of his list. He’s down to 5 with 2 easy ones and a tough scatter of 3 more. Since the Nationals were playing the Mets, it seemed like a win-win to catch a game there this weekend. Well, not really for me.

The Mets hit a new low, with John Lannan seeming to own them, facing the minimum through 7. In fact, he enticed the Mets into 5 double plays (a franchise record), 4 of them in a row in the 1st 4 innings. He pitched a complete game only giving up an unearned run in the 8th and faced only 3 over the minimum. But in the category of there’s always something new, there were a couple of very interesting events. First of all, the game time was 2 hours even. I’ll have to look back, but I can’t remember being to a game that was less than 2 hours, so this may have been the quickest game I have ever seen.

The other interesting was a 3-unassisted, 9-3-6 double play. With Luis Castillo on 1st, Emil Brown hit a ball to right field that Elijah Dukes trapped. Castillo turned back towards 1st and Brown passed him and was called out. Castillo touched 1st and then headed to 2nd. Dukes, from the seat of his pants through to Nick Johnson at 1st who threw to Cristiam Guzman who tagged out Castillo.

It was a tough loss and even a friendly concession stand worker got into the game. As I was wearing my David Wright jersey, there was no doubting where my loyalties were. With the score at 7-0 on my last visit to the stand she said (with a smile) that they were “giving us a sheelacking”. All was in fun and after all, she was right.

The trip was fun albeit a bit of a whirlwind. A 5+ hour drive to Washington, a 2 hour game almost as long to get from the game back to the hotel and then another 5+ hour drive back home.

The loss left the Mets 1-4 on a roadtrip that had them playing the Pirates and the Nationals. Not a good lead-in to a stretch that will have the Mets playing the Phillies, Yankees, Tampa Bay and St. Louis. Was this the low point of the season or the point of no return. Only time will tell.

    

Wes and I at Nats Park
The Ex-presidents

The New Cathedral of Baseball

The New Cathedral

 

Well, this is hard for a Mets fan to say, but here goes. The new Yankee Stadium is the fitting Cathedral to the religion of Baseball. The Yankees have a long and storied history of success with 26 World Championships and a wing of players in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The one thing that the Yankees know is how to celebrate their history and tradition.

The New Yankee Stadium

When you walk up to the new stadium, you get the cathedral feeling as you take in the sheer magnitude of the stadium and its imposing structure. Once you walk-in, there is never any doubt whose house it is. Pictures documenting the franchise surround the interior stating from the Great Hall and all around the concession stands. Of course, the storied Monument Park is resident in centerfield. The line starts 3 hours and closed 1 1/2 hours prior to game  time and the day we were there, the line rose through all three decks.

Monument Park
Outside the Museum
The Boss
The Hall of Champions

A new addition is a museum that I didn’t get the chance to visit this time, but I’m sure there’s a lot to tell in there. That line also wrapped around the ramps between levels.

Of course, the return of the facade around the stadium brings back memories of the pre-renovation Yankee Stadium. Younger fans only have seen the facade in the outfield, however, this definitely returns to majestry of the original stadium.

It’s true that the stadium is new and that negligible history has been made there (short of giving up 14 runs in an inning) but throughout the stadium there are efforts to recollect and pay homage to the players that created a large part of baseball history merely a block away.

I can’t say for sure, but the video screen sure seems to be the largest I have ever seen. The video is incredible. Any attempt to go over the top with any aspect of the stadium has not been missed.

You Gotta Love the Organ

I would recommend that any true baseball fan, Yankee fan, Yankee agnostic or even Yankee haters take the opportunity to visit this new venue. It is completely unlike any other that I have visited. Given the Yankee mystique, history and prominent role in baseball history, this stadium completely fits the team.

Danny and I

The Mets could have taken some pointers from the Yankees in how to celebrate their history. You’d never find a tribute to the Brooklyn Dodgers or New York Giants or the New York Mets for that matter at Yankee Stadium. They get it!

Is there a Successor to Max Patkin’s Crown?

Max Firing Up the Crowd
Max Coaching First Base
Danny Shaking Hands with Max

There’s been something missing from baseball for the last decade and a half. With all of the new high tech stadiums and flash and polish some of the old charm is lost. For those of you that knew Max Patkin as the Clown Prince of baseball, no further introduction is needed. Max barnstormed across the country making guest appearances at many minor league parks. He would always get an opportunity to coach an inning and would bring the house down in the process.

I had the opportunity to see him at Beehive Stadium in New Britain, CT. I can’t tell you how much my family enjoyed his antics as he coached 1st base. How could we not love him – he even wore a Mets jersey (his number was a ‘?’). We got the chance to visit with him after the game and it was a real pleasure. He was an extremely funny and approachable individual and is sorely missed. Although my boys have vague recollections, they enjoy Max’s antics as they were captured in the classic baseball movie, Bull Durham.

Max was not the 1st Clown Prince of Baseball, and hopefully, he’s not the last. He stopped touring in 1995 and died at the age of 79 in 1999. He brought joy to both young and old. He was a product of simpler times when his clowning was the added entertainment at a game. He succeeded another famous holder of the throne, Al Schacht. But now with video arcades, restaurants, playgrounds, etc, a clown? Will there still a place for will there ever be a successor to the crown that Max wore proudly for about 5 decades?

I’d be interested in hearing from others and their experiences with Max. Let’s keep his memory and legacy alive. I’d recommend that anyone not familiar with Max that has not seen Bull Durham to take the opportunity to check him out. It’s a great baseball movie and captures Max in action.

As I wrote this I did a quick Google search and found, Myron Noodleman. It seems that there may be a contender for the throne in the wings. Although not recognized by the Hall of Fame, he was appointed by Mike Veeck, son of the famous baseball promoter Bill Veeck, in 2004. I see that he is scheduled to visit the New Britain Rock Cats on August 11. I’ll have to try to check it out, schedule permitting and provide my assessment (for what it’s worth). Has anyone seen him?

I’d be interested in hearing from anyone that has seen both Max and Myron and can compare and contrast the two. Is there a successor to Max Patkin’s crown?

OK Mets Fans – what do you really think of Citi Field?

After attending the 1st event (St. John’s vs. Georgetown), the Mets 1st game (exhibition vs. the Red Sox) and now the 1st regular season game, I thought that Citi Field would start feeling like home. However, it’s like watching the Mets on the road, let’s say at Dodger stadium. I have to admit that I really like the new Citi Field – it’s a beautiful ballpark. But at the risk of being sacriligeous, it doesn’t feel like the home of the Mets – it feels more worthy of being the home of the Dodgers.

I have the utmost respect and appreciation for Jackie Robinson and what he accomplished. His life clearly defined leadership and heroism. He did more singlehandedly to help change our country, for the better, than most people. In an era when it is becoming more and more difficult for children to find a ball player that they can look up to, Jackie was someone that EVERYONE could look up to and would do well to emulate.

That being said, I admit that I find it difficult entering Citi Field where there is a greater focus on the Brooklyn Dodgers than the New York Mets. Besides the Jackie Robinson rotunda, there’s the Ebbets Club, Brooklyn’s Brewery and the concessions either from or with names referring to Brooklyn. You can pick up some Brooklyn Dodgers memorabilia as well.

The ballpark is wonderful and reminiscent of Ebbets Field, home of the Dodgers. Of course, Ebbets field was never home to the Mets but the Polo Grounds were. I can embrace the Ebbets Field ambiance, its the Dodgers history that I have a problem with.

To me, its incomprehensible that the ballpark doesn’t honor the rich 47-year history of the team whose home it is. I think that the Wilpons have missed the mark. Maybe they should have bought the Dodgers and moved them back to New York. All that being said, I have to re-evaluate my thoughts on where is ranks in the venues that I’ve visited. I think that PNC and AT&T still rank ahead of it. I need a little more thought to see where Citi Field will place. I love the stadium, but it’s not home.

So, the question I have to Mets fans, real baseball fans is “What do you think about the new home of the Mets?”.

My first opinion piece – why do you go to a baseball game?

Well, when I read the article on MLB.com that I was quoted in, there was another quote in the article that got me thinking. Without naming names, the quote was, “I went to my first baseball game with my dad there and my son came with me, but it was time for something new and something clean. They needed something more state-of-the-art, something with more to do than to just come and sit in the seats and watch a baseball game.”

That quote encapsulated what has become the problem with the direction about baseball. At the risk of starting to sound like my father (or for that matter, my grandfather), things were better in the good old days. Yes I know that baseball has always been a business and a big one at that. But, why would anyone go to a baseball game to NOT WATCH a baseball game. However, that is what is happening and what MLB is endorsing with all of these theme park attractions available during the game. Whatever happened to going to watch and enjoy the game. It seems that the circus surrounding the game is becoming more important than the game.

This reminded me about my visit to Citizen’s Bank Park in Philadelphia. There were empty seats next to us and in about the 3rd inning, we decided to spread out a little. That was until the top of the 7th inning, when a family of four came to claim their seats. So we politely gathered ourselves back into our seats, no problem there. I had just assumed that they had trouble getting to the game since it was so late. The interesting thing was the comment that the father made when he sat down. He said that it was finally his chance to do his thing and watch the game (the last 2 1/2 innings anyway). I found it hard to think that people are willing to pay today’s prices to go to not watch a baseball game.

I understand that ticket prices are increasing thanks to the ever increasing player salaries – it’s the price that you have to pay to win. However, do I really need to pay for a 5-star restaurant, pool tables, etc? If I want to play pool, I’ll go to a pool hall and watch the game on the TV – it’s much cheaper that way.

Are the fans that want to go and watch the whole game becoming a minority?  I always watch the entire game, period. I have sat through rain delays, 16-inning MLB and minor league games since as Yogi said, it’s not over until it’s over. I’m afraid that it’s going to become, I went to a theme park and a baseball game broke out.

We used to have a minor league team in New Haven, the Ravens. They were a Double-A team in the Eastern League and were affiliated with the Rockies, Cardinals, Mariners and Blue Jays and played in historic Yale Field. It wasn’t a flashy stadium with all of the modern amenities but it was a great place to see a game. The game was the focus! I can’t tell you how many games we went to, often getting out of work and deciding on the spur of the moment to go see a game.

So, the question I have is “If you are trying to develop your fan base – shouldn’t the game be the primary focus?”. Baseball seems to be alienating the true fans that want to just enjoy the games. At this rate, the average fan may be a fan of the theme park, but not the game of baseball.

So, let me know what you think. Am I out of step with the times? What’s more important the game itself or the things I can do at the stadium rather than just watch the game?

Welcome to my quest

I started this blog to chronicle my continued quest for baseball experiences. I was also hoping that others would share their personal experiences, either watching, playing or coaching at any level. Baseball is a theme that ties generations together. So I figured that I’d get this started and see where it takes us.

My first loyalties are to the New York Mets but but am a broader fan of the game and enjoy it at any level.

I continue on my baseball quest and thanks to my second visit to Citi Field (I also went to the Georgetown/St. John’s game on March 29) my magic number to see all of the active Major League Baseball stadiums is back down to one. Of course, it was just an exhibition game, but I’ll be there on Opening Day as well. I have a new favorite stadium in Citi Field which is a great place to see a game, if not expensive. Sure it doesn’t have the view of PNC and AT&T nor the history of Wrigley and Fenway but Citi Field is now at the top of my list (OK it could be partly due to the fact that it’s my home park). It is a wonderful, cozy park with great site lines and a good dose of character especially with its quirky outfield fence. I had a lot of good memories of Shea Stadium, but as we used to say, “it was a dump, but it was our dump”. I still miss it though. I can’t wait to create a whole set of memories in this great new venue.

While touring the stadium prior to the game on Friday, I was approached by a MLB correspondent and was quoted in the article that can be found on MLB.com.

If you too are pursuing a quest or your own, check out Ballpark Chasers and join a group of individuals that share your passion.