Monday, August 28, 2006

1986 Mets DVD Collection

In this, the 20th anniversary of the Mets' great 1986 World Championship season, A&E Home Video has released a Collectors' Edition 9 DVD set containing the full play-by-play of all 7 World Series games, game 6 of the LCS vs. the Astros and a supplemental disk with interviews and highlights of the clubhouse celebrations. I would like to thank the people at A&E for sending me a set to review.

If you're a devoted Mets fan who's not old enough to remember 1986 or who has never seen these games, then clearly, you should own this set. Watch them in sequence and enjoy. If, on the other hand, you remember the Mets' 1986 season as I suspect most people who were fans at the time do, then watch the bonus disk first, then watch either of the game 6's anytime you need some cheering up or just want to put yourself in a good mood.

At the time of these games, I had just returned from the hospital where I had undergone elective surgery. I don't remember exactly, but I'm pretty sure when the doctor gave me a choice of dates, I picked the one I did so that I knew I would be home and on sick leave from my job so I could watch every inning of every game of the playoffs and World Series on TV, which is what I did. And what a job these games did of helping to put me back into good health and leaving a smile on my face. That said, I see no point in re-watching most of these games, although it's nice to know they are available.

Would I have done the set differently ? Absolutely. If you're in to completeness, then I suppose a full disk devoted to each game makes sense. But how often (if at all) would a Met fan want to watch a 1-0 game won by the Red Sox where the only run was scored on an error ? (And if you remember who made the error, who hit the ball, and in what inning, you definitely don't need to watch it.) I suppose part of the reason for this release was to be the definitive record of the series and not just a highlight reel, which has been done before. Yet, I would have included more of the Houston series, more in-depth interviews especially with Frank Cashen and Davey Johnson examining how the team was built player by player, and probably a profile of every player on the team including a "where are they now ?". I would have also liked to see some regular season highlights. While I can recall the playoffs and World Series in intimate detail, I don't remember much about the regular season. Obviously the Mets won 108 regular season games, but a month by month summary with game highlights could have brought back some memories.

Is this set worth owning ? If you're a Met fan, the obvious answer is "yes", but for me, it could have been so much better. Still, I appreciate receiving a copy and recommend it highly as a gift, especially for Mets' fans who came on board after 1986, and I applaud its release.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The '86 Mets and more

I was glad that MLB Extra Innings carried the complete tribute to the 1986 Mets last night. I enjoyed watching it immensely. I also enjoyed the in-booth interviews with Dykstra, Orosco, and Strawberry. A nice job all around.

Dave Williams was impressive and efficient before leg cramps forced him out of the game. A nice comeback by the Mets, led for the first time in awhile by Lastings Milledge. Good to see. Judging by his work yesterday, I can see now why Cincinnati thought Williams was worth Sean Casey. Williams looks like he can be a valuable bottom-of-the-rotation guy on a high scoring team.

Oliver Perez pitched a gem for Norfolk last night. Unless he gets bombed next time out, that should earn him a September audition with the Mets. He certainly has the stuff to be an ace, so it will be interesting to watch.

Now, for some bad news. Tom Glavine apparently has a blood clot in his arm. Diagnostic tests this week will determine his immediate future. With Pedro still on the shelf, the Mets' championship aspirations will dwindle if Glavine is done for the season.

It's looking more and more like the Yankees will win their division and they'll certainly be a favorite in every post-season series. I DON'T want another Subway Series. I'd probably rather see both the Mets and Yankees out of it, than see them both in it. I'm not sure if other Mets' fans feel this way, but I'm probably rooting more for the Yankees to lose than I am for the Mets to win, come post-season time. Mets in the World Series, Yankees not, would of course, be the best. Go Mets, go Tigers !

I'm still a little bothered by Preston Wilson's signing with the Cardinals, especially when I read that his agent had contacted the Mets. Of course, the Mets don't need Wilson to win the division, but it seemed like a no-brainer to bring him back here. Shawn Green has quickly faded out of the Mets' picture, although us "outsiders" don't know how close this deal really was. It could have been no more than a figment of Steve Somers' imagination, since a day after he reported that a Green for Diaz and Ring deal was done, an Arizona paper was still reporting that Green might approve a deal to the Mets which could get done "if the Mets agree to part with Lastings Milledge". The real story - who knows ?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Old Time Mets - Jesse Gonder

In 1960 and 1961, Jesse Gonder was a good hitting young catcher in the Yankee organization who had no chance of making a team that already had 2 of the best catchers in the league in Yogi Berra and Elston Howard. Plus Jesse had a reputation as one of the more outspoken black ballplayers at the time. The Yankees were beginning to add some black players to their team, but they were generally quiet guys like Howard and Harry "Suitcase" Simpson. Gonder may have also had a better chance at a good major league career if the DH rule existed in those days, since he was a lefthanded hitter with a sweet swing, but since his only position was catcher, and he frankly, wasn't all that good defensively, he languished in the minor leagues. After leaving the Yankees organization, he put up great numbers in the PCL in 1962 and got a shot with the Reds, but the team already had a pretty good lefty-hitting catcher in Johnny Edwards.

The 1963 Mets, of course, could use all the help they could get, and if Gonder was an incomplete player, he was still a better hitter than any catcher the Mets had. In fact, Howard Cosell, who in those pre-Monday Night Football days, did the Mets' post-game show (one of the few authorized post-game shows that always seemed to take a negative slant on the team they covered !) called Gonder "one of the best natural hitters in the major leagues". That may have been overstating it, but Gonder was certainly going to hit more than Sammy Taylor, the catcher they traded for him (along with a practically washed up Charley Neal).

Jesse actually had a pretty good year with the bat as the Mets' #1 catcher in 1964, hitting .270 which was quite impressive for a Mets' catcher back then. But he was dealt away and his defensive deficiencies coupled with a disappointing record as a pinch hitter shortened his major league career. Gonder needed to play full time in order to keep his batting eye sharp, but he couldn't play any position other than catcher and was well below average defensively behind the plate, not a good combination. My most vivid memories of Gonder recall his throws in the dirt attempting to nail runners at second and his sweet lefthanded stroke. Jesse was one of many "incomplete" ballplayers who surfaced with the early Mets, but he did at least have one solid year as a regular.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Old Time Mets - Would You Believe Wilbur Huckle ?

Every so often on eBay, someone auctions off a political button that reads "Wilbur Huckle For President - Metropolitan Party". Who was Wilbur Huckle, some obscure third (or 4th) party candidate ? Not at all. In fact at the time the button was printed, Huckle wasn't old enough to run for president, nor did he have any interest in the job. The whole thing grew out of a banner that some Mets fans made up around the time of "Let's Go Harkness - Put One In The Darkness" or "Is Ed Kranepool Over The Hill ?".

Wilbur was a Mets farmhand in the '60's, a shortstop who also played some third base. There was really nothing special about him except for his name and the fact that he looked exactly the way you might expect someone named Wilbur Huckle to look, with red hair and a million freckles. He peaked at AAA with Jacksonville, where he had a typical season, hitting in the .260 range. He never even got a cup of coffee with the Mets and as bad as they were back then, that's a pretty good indication that he was never considered anything more than an organizational player. Still, to older Mets fans like myself, his name evokes a time of hope, when someone with no more than a funny name could become a fan favorite without any of these fans ever having seen him play !

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Old Time Mets - Warren Spahn

Warren Spahn was one of the greatest lefthanded pitchers of all time. Warren Spahn also pitched for the Mets. Unfortunately, those two facts are mutually exclusive.

Spahn was a great pitcher for the Braves for many years, a perennial 20-game winner and a real workhorse, regularly logging over 250 innings and 20 complete games a year. In an era when most pitchers called it quits at around age 35, Spahn was still a big winner, a 23-game winner in fact, at the age of 42 in 1963 with a 2.60 ERA, one of his very best years. With his big high kick and great assortment of stuff, he was truly a legend in his own time.

Then, in 1964, he seemingly lost it. His record with the Braves plummeted to 6-13 with an ERA over 5 and only 4 complete games. His Hall Of Fame career was coming to an end, and perhaps it was time to bow out gracefully. But Spahn was convinced he could still pitch and following the 1964 season, his contract was sold to the Mets.

The Mets not only expected him to be their number one starter, but also gave him the job as pitching coach, presumably assuming that someone who had been so successful as a pitcher would be highly qualified to teach their pitchers. Big Mistake.

Not only did Spahn never regain his form, but he was constantly focused on doing so, to the detriment of the rest of the Mets' pitching staff who needed all the help they could get. Spahn appeared to be a coach in title only. His primary job was trying to get Warren Spahn back on track. Maybe at the age of 44, he had just had it. In July, with a 4-12 record, the Mets released Spahn. He immediately got picked up by the Giants where he ultimately ended his career, posting a 3-4 record and pitching decently.

He was later deservedly elected to the Hall Of Fame, but his brief tenure as a Met may be best forgotten.