Little, Brown & Co. May, 2008.
Bob Shepard has been the Yankee Stadium announcer since 1951. Alex Anthony has been the Mets’ announcer for two or three years. 97-year-old Bob announces position, player name and uniform number in deep sonorous tones. Alex merely says, “Batting ninth, the pitcher…”and the giant Diamond Vision in Centerfield rolls tape of the player announcing his own name with a smile.
There’s a hi-tech/old school style schism. No surprise there. Shepard was already in his 11th season with the Yankees when the Mets played their first game ever.
As with the other Feinstein books, this one is filled with inside tidbits that sports readers crave. It also meanders.
A Feinstein book is an up and down show. The author is always honest and in focus, but perhaps a bit slow.
Knowing that Tom Glavine’s 2007 season ended in dramatic disaster helps one push through the slow parts.
The best Feinstein reader is the reader who loves the subject.
Mets and Yankee fans take note.
LIVING ON THE BLACK Two pitchers, two teams, one season to remember. John Feinstein. Little Brown, 2008. 508 pages.
It could be titled, Lurching toward Cooperstown. The ups and downs of a long season with Mike Mussina and Tom Glavine.
Or, How lousy middle relief caused The Mets to usurp ultimate baseball horror & death from the previous title holders, the Red Sox & Cubs.
Or, Avoid mistaking Free Agent Lemons for Lamborghinis, as when putting Pavano and Igawa in pinstripes. Or else you might have to run your Hall of Fame Manager out of town.
Feinstein’s book is about the two aging pitchers, both pitching in NYC for different teams, both seeking to achieve milestones in 2007. Tom Glavine, a blue chip HS athlete from Billerica (pronounced Bill Uh Rica), Mass. with an Atlanta Braves pedigree of success, sought his 300th career win with the Mets in the 2007 season.
Mike Mussina, a Williamsport, PA intellectual who came to the Yankees by way of Stanford and the Baltimore Orioles, was trying to add a 20-win season and a World Championship to an otherwise HOF worthy career.
Both were getting old for baseball. Mussina would turn 39 and Glavine would turn 41 in 2007.
Big contracts and abandoned fans are the background in Tom and Mike’s careers. Thankfully, Feinstein traces the free agency paths these two took.
Mussina’s signing with the Yankees in 2000 is of no small import to Oriole’s fans. Some Baltimoreans feel that Mike never was truly interested in staying in the Charm City. Feinstein clarifies: Mussina gave the O’s opportunities to keep the future HOF’er in Baltimore for his entire career but the Birds cheaped out. First, having become arbitration-eligible in the winter of ’96, Mussina signed a 1-year, $6.88 million contract that would allow both parties to continue to talk long-term. In May of ‘97, Moose agreed to Peter Angelos’ personal offer of 3-years, $21 million. He could have told Angelos ‘No”. He could have gone free agent in Nov. 1997. He was fairly sure to receive 4 or 5 years at $45 or $55 million. But Mussina gave the O’s a hometown discount. And Moose was subsequently criticized by his Union, notably by Atlanta Union rep Tom Glavine, for taking less than what the market would yield.
Three years later that contract was ending. Mussina’s agent, Arn Tellum, started negotiations by asking for 5 years and $60 million. Angelos said “No” to all 5-year deals. Mussina went Free Agent and got $88.5 million dollars in a 6-year deal from the Yankees.
Thus did 32-year-old Mike Mussina take his 147-71 WL record and 3.53 career ERA 200 miles up Rt. 95 to the Bronx, but only after seeking reasonable contract length and compensation.
Glavine’s signing with the Mets was an emotional brushfire. After a series of miscommunications with the Braves front office, Glavine signed with the Mets. Soon after the contract announcement, he was struck by guilt and loyalty to the Braves. He was concerned about how a move to NYC would impact wife and family. He publicly called off the deal. Within a day or two, he realized he had permanently damage his rep by discarding the Mets. He reversed himself again. Off to New York he went.
These guys are only human. Even small market fans may feel some empathy after reading this book.
A sampler of cool insight bytes embedded in Living On The Black……….
The story of Jamie Moyer. In his 10th year of MLB experience he finally developed an
effective changeup and began 10 straight years of double digit wins. He was 46 years old on Nov. 18 when he pitched in the World Series for the Phillies. He has 246 career wins. His fastball rarely tops 80 mph. A soft tossin’ lefty who keeps a tape of vintage Glavine.
Feinstein on Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays: Sparky Anderson said Seattle’s Kingdome is the only place I’ve ever been where it’s always overcast indoors. Tropicana Field is worse. A bad place to watch a baseball game.
Jason Giambi, steroid user speaking to the media, “Major League Baseball owes the fans an apology over what happened in the steroid era.”, a statement made to the puzzlement of his player peers.
As the steroid discussion swirled, Glavine offered this on the subject of Barry Bonds: “If he’s guilty, he’s not the only one. Just the most talented.”
The Making of Paul LoDuca: Drafted in the 25th round in 1993 after hitting .446 with 88
RBI in 75 games, the Dodgers took a guy who could only hit. He couldn’t field a position. The Dodgers trained him as a catcher. He bounced up and down from minors to majors for 6 years. Then, he broke through in 2001, hitting 25 HR and .320. Today he is a 4x All Star and a self-made catcher.
On the Red Sox 5th starter: Paul Byrd is a poor man’s Tom Glavine.
On getting an edge: Older pitchers, like Glavine and Mussina are constantly amazed when they see a young pitcher get a ball back after a grounder to an infielder and throw it in to the Umpire asking for a new ball because it has been scuffed by the infield dirt.
“Boggles my mind when I see that.”, Mussina said. “You treat a scuffed ball like gold and hang onto it as long as you can.”
On Stan Kasten, current Washington GM, former Atlanta GM: With equal parts love and anger for Glavine in his past life in Atlanta, Kasten felt compelled to make this offer to Glavine when he became a free agent again in Nov., 2007: “Look, I’d really like to see you sign with the Braves or the Mets so we can spend next year kicking your ass, but if that doesn’t work out, give me a call.”.
Kasten is a character.
On David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez……arguably the most dangerous twosome in Baseball…Ramirez is the no-doubt future Hall of Famer on the team, but Ortiz is the more feared clutch hitter…..Ramirez is difficult to pitch to under any circumstances because he hits for average as well as for power, and even though left field in Yankee Stadium is more difficult to reach than right field, his power is such that if he gets a pitch to hit, it really doesn’t matter what direction the ball goes, it’s going out.”
This book also tells the story of one season for two teams.
The 2007 Yankees were vying for their 13th straight year in the post-season.
The 2007 Mets were looking to repeat as NL East Champs and get back to the World Series.
When Mussina returned from a hammy injury on May 1, great carnage had left the Yankees with a rotation of Wang, Mussina, Pettitte, Rasner & DeSalvo. The perpetually injured Carl Pavano, the gopher balls of Kei Igawa, and Phil Hughes’ hamstring had forced the Yankees to insert no-name never-were’s into the 4 and 5 spot.
Things weren’t rock solid at the top of the rotation either. Moose admits that at this age and stage of your career you have days when you are pitching and you ask, “Have I ever done this before ?”.
The Yankees were not good out of the gate. After 39 games, The Yankees’ record stood at 18 – 21 W-L and 8 games behind the first place Red Sox.
At the “half” — they were 42-43, 10 games behind Boston and 8.5 games behind Cleveland for the wildcard. This is the first year that Yankees Manager Joe Torre was under .500 at the All Star break. This situation prompted broadcaster John Sterling to remark, “It’s time for the players on this team to start playing like the numbers on the back of their bubblegum cards.”
On Aug. 7, Joba Chamberlain was called up. He pitched 2 clean innings and quickly starts to acquire folk status in N.Y.C.
Later in August, Mussina’s star dimmed as Joba’s shined. In a 6-7 loss to the Angels, Moose walked two batters to start the game. In 497 career starts, that is something he had never done before. He would leave down 7-1, yielding 7 ER in just 1.2 IP. “I simply couldn’t keep the ball off the barrel of the bat. It was embarrassing. They hit everything hard.”
Mussina, pitching poorly and on the verge of being reassigned to the bullpen, found a flaw in his motion wherein by not standing straight up at the outset, he had been throwing his balance off slightly. He made a correction. In one outing he went from retiring just 13 of 27 batters — to pitching like Cy Young.
But it was too late to avoid a demotion.
Moose had been hampered all season long by a hurt hammy, injured foot, stretched arch, aching right knee and left hip. The injuries contributed to an overall poor performance. The demotion was unavoidable.
With the Yankees pulling hard for a wildcard berth that they would ultimately secure, Torre dropped Mussina from the rotation. Moose, who retired just this past week on Nov. 17, 2008, finished his career with 537 appearances. That includes 536 starts…and just one relief appearance.
The solitary relief stint came on Sept. 3, 2007 at Yankee Stadium when Roger Clemens’ hamstring forced him from the game, and Moose held down the fort for 3.2 innings in a 7 – 1 loss to Seattle.
Mussina finished 2007 with a won-loss record of 11-10 with a 5.15 ERA
Unlike the Yankees, he would bounce back the following year. His 2008 record was 20-9 with a 3.37 ERA.
Baltimoreans may hold a grudge. Fans may debate his HOF worthiness. It is undeniable that he went out on top by winning 20 games for the first time and posting a 3.37 ERA – 6th best in the A.L.
He walked just 31 batters in 200.1 IP. Damn good.
After the first 40 games of the 2007 season, the Mets were in a completely different spot than the Bombers, who at the time were actually bombing. The Mets were 26 – 14 W-L, and in first place.
The Mets were jelling. They were storming and norming. Glavine was going with the youthful flow. After receiving a team buzz cut, Glavine’s wife Christine asked, “…..do you realize you look like a dork ?”
At the half, the Mets were 48-39, with a 2 game lead in the NL East. Glavine at that point was 7 – 6 with a 4.36 ERA including 2 non-representative bashings. He could have easily been at 300 wins by this time with a better bullpen.
Then, on one beautiful day, August 4, 2007, Tom Glavine was at 299 wins. The same day, Barry Bonds had 754 HR (one shy of Aaron), and A Rod was at 499 HR, like Glavine, just one short of an exclusive club.
Glavine sat perched at 299.
Ahead of him sat Wynn, Grove, Welch, Radbourn, Seaver, Perry, Niekro, Sutton, Ryan, Plank, Clarkson, Carlton, Keefe, Clemens, Maddux, Nichols, Galvin, Spahn, Mathewson, Alexander, Johnson and one Denton True (Cy) Young.
Behind him sat 44-year-old Randy Johnson, who may have then been thinking about his 284 career victories as he recovered from back surgery.
Behind Johnson sat Mussina, who had racked up 245 wins through 6+ years with the Yankees and 10 years with a bad Oriole club.
And behind them is no one with a shot at 300. John Smoltz, Andy Pettitte and Pedro Martinez are next. They are each a notch above 200 wins at this writing, but with far too few years left to play. They’ll never make it.
The very next day Glavine got win #500 as the Mets defeat the Cubs 5-3 at Wrigley. The win brought the Mets record to 63 – 48, with a 4.5 game lead in the division and 8 weeks left in the season.
Glavine, like Mussina, was destined to ride the ups and downs of 2007, some days in the groove, other days wondering if they would ever get anyone out again.
Winning #300 was the biggest high of Glavine’s year.
He was awash in congratulatory emails, letters and phone calls. Ironically, the one that really hit home was from a HOF pitcher who only won 165 games: Koufax.
Yes, win #300 was sweet.
But all too soon, Mets reliever Guillermo Mota, the steroid user, would foreshadow Met heartbreak as he blew Glavine’s win # 301.
Mota unraveled in disastrous relief, the kind that would repeat many times in 2007 & 2008, breaking hearts and losing the division.
With 7 weeks to go in 2007, the roles of the New York teams were reversed.
The Yankees stood at 66 – 51, percentage points better than the Mets, who were at 65 – 52.
THE METS COLLAPSE
Good teams gone bad are a sad cliché.
I’m a 52-year old Red Sox fan. I know.
So let’s say it quickly about the 2007 Mets: Their bullpens repeatedly coughed up losses and blew wins that should have been earned by a team with great hitting, good fielding, good closing relief and good starting pitching.
They even lost once to the Phillies on a game ending interference call, helping to drop a 6 game lead to just 2 games. In September. Ouch.
Ahead by 7 games on Sept. 12, the Mets bullpen frittered the lead down to 2 games on Sept. 18.
Team meetings didn’t work. Good starts were squandered in high scoring 9-8 affairs and the like.
The slide was punctuated by one especially devastating implosion by Joge Sosa and Guillermo Mota. What made this loss burn was that the Mets had scored 4 runs in the top of the 9th against the Marlins in Miami, thus seeming to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. But Sosa and Mota gave it all back. The Mets lost on a Marlins’ walk off.
The lead was now down to 1.5 games with 10 left to play.
Still, there were a few wins left in the Mets — and the Phillies contributed a few losses.
The Mets headed home with 7 games left and a 2.5 game lead. The last 7 games would all be at Shea and would include 3 against the last place Nationals, a make up game vs. the Cardinals, and 3 against the Marlins. Combined, these three losing teams would post a 222 – 264 W-L record. Teams with a combine .457 W-L pct. Overall.
Teams with a .424 record on the road
All the Mets had to do was win 5 of 7 at home.
The blow by blow:
4 – 13 Nats. Mets drop game 1.
9 – 10 Nats. Glavine loses despite furious rally from 3 – 10 on the day the Yankees clinch the wild card.
6 – 9 Nats. Mets rook Humbert starts & blows a 5 – 0 Mets lead.
0 — 3 St. Louis. Red Sox bullpen cast off Joel Pineiro shuts down the Mets.
With 3 games left, the Mets and Phillies are tied at 87 – 72.
4 – 7 Florida. Oliver Perez is wild, hits 3 batters, and loses to the not-so-immortal Byung-Hyun Kim, who sported a 6.08 season ERA.
With 2 games left, the Mets were 1 game BEHIND the Phillies !
13 – 0 METS FINALLY WIN ONE !. The Amazins shell Marlin rookies Chris Sheldon and the Phils also drop one.
The Mets and Phils are tied with one game left…
Making his 669th career start is Mr. Reliable – Tom Glavine.
Surely Tom would shut down the last place Marlins, who clearly would mail it in on the last day and dash home or to the golf course.
But wait. The Mets had brawled with the Marlins in the 13-0 win the day before, with shortstop Reyes in the middle of the fracas. Testosterone was flowing through the Marlins again. As Glavine took his warm ups before the final game, the Marlins stood on the top step of the dug out. They were prepared to kick some ass.
1 – 8 Marlins. Glavine yields 7 runs in the top of the first and never gets out of the 2nd.
He later says he never pitched so good with such a bad outcome in a game that meant so much. Only 1 ball was whacked.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia defeats the Nationals 6 – 1 and wins the NL East.
Phila 89 – 73.
Mets 88 – 74
The Yankee season would last only 8 days longer than the Mets. Cleveland rocked Wang, and then nipped Pettitte in the Midge (Gnat) Game. Down 0 -2 in games, George announces that Torre is gone if Cleveland eliminates the Yankees. The Bombers take Game 3, but end their season with a 4 – 6 loss in the last game of the series.
George offers Torre a 1 year contract with humiliating terms. Torre leads the Dodgers to the 2008 playoffs. George, Hank & Cashman admire Joe’s postseason managing skills from afar.
All in all, I enjoyed Feinstein’s book. Although I must say, I immediately dove into a book by Red Smith and felt like I’d been slapped out of a somnambular state.
I give the book a solid B.
Nothing left for Tom Glavine to prove. (NY Post)
Mussina & Posada celebrate 20th win (NY Post)