One last David Wright walk-off

Back in the day (circa 2005), I had a blog in which I would share Mets statistical minutiae and stories, with the primary hook relating to their hundreds of walk-off wins. It was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done in my life and I learned a heck of a lot about Mets history in the process.

So I figured I’d return to my roots and catalog David Wright’s collection of walk-offs and share some fun stats I dug up to pay proper tribute to his legacy.

No.1, April 9, 2006 vs Marlins (sacrifice fly)
David Wright got off to a good start in 2006, one that foreshadowed a season that would match the previous one in superstardowm (.311/.381/.531 with 26 HR, 20 SB and 116 RBI). It also foreshadowed a great season for walk-off moments.

The first was this one, set up by his two-run game-tying triple in the seventh inning off Mets nemesis Dontrelle Willis. After Billy Wagner escaped trouble in a 2-2 game in the top of the ninth, Wright followed a walk by Carlos Beltran and a single by Carlos Delgado, with a sacrifice fly to right field.

It gave the Mets a win and earned Wright the title of “young superstar” from teammate Paul Lo Duca.

Wright’s best line that day regarding his triple – “If I had Jose Reyes speed, I’d be thinking inside-the-park homer. But with David Wright speed, I’m thinking triple.”

The Wrighteous Mets fan knows that: David Wright’s 65 sacrifice flies are the most in Mets history. Wright hit .415 with a runner on third and less than 2 outs, a BA partly enhanced by those 65 sac flies not counting. But even if they did, he still hit .348. The MLB batting average this season, if sac flies counted as AB, is .270.

No. 2, May 5, 2006 vs Braves (double)
This was definitely the kind of win that made you think the 2006 Mets were going to win the whole thing. First they rallied from 6-2 down in the seventh inning against the bazillion-time defending division champions, tying the game on Kazuo Matsui’s clutch single. Then they tied it again in the 11th inning on Cliff Floyd’s home run.

It took until the 14th to win it, after the Braves stranded Chipper Jones at second base in the visitor’s half. A Carlos Beltran walk set things up for Wright with two outs. He clubbed a ground-rule double to center, scoring Beltran from second.

“We are not going to roll over,” Wright told reporters afterwards.

The Mets fan with Wright of way knows that: David Wright’s 9 walk-off RBIs rank 2nd to Wilmer Flores (10). His 8 walk-off hits are the most in Mets history.

No. 3, May 19, 2006 vs Yankees (single)
This was such a fun game.

The Yankees took a 4-0 lead in the first inning, but the Mets answered with Carlos Beltran’s three-run home run against Randy Johnson in the bottom of the frame. They’d end up tying the game at five in the third inning on Xavier Nady’s homer.

The Yankees took the lead again in the fourth and the Mets tied it right back on Kaz Matsui’s hit in the fifth. The score stayed tied until the ninth thanks to three outstanding innings from Aaron Heilman. After Billy Wagner struck out Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi and Kelly Stinnett in the top of the ninth, the Mets won it in the bottom.

Paul Lo Duca’s one-out double and an intentional walk to Carlos Delgado set Wright up with two outs. On a 2-2 pitch, he hit a bolt over Johnny Damon’s head in center field, bringing in Lo Duca with the winning run.

“Not many guys do that against Mariano,” manager Willie Randolph. “He’s the best.”

When you’re Wright, you’re right and you know that … David Wright had 50 hits in the 7th inning or later that tied the game or put the Mets in the lead. His most against a pitcher was 3 – against Mariano Rivera.

No. 4: May 29, 2006 vs Diamondbacks (single)
Another really exciting game, one in which the Mets had to rally from a 7-6 deficit after building an early 4-1 lead. This time, Aaron Heilman wasn’t good, giving up a go-ahead three-run home run to Chad Tracy in the seventh inning.

The Mets were down a run entering the home ninth against Jose Valverde, but this was of no matter. It took two batters – an Endy Chavez double and Jose Reyes single – to tie the game. Wright got his chance after a rare failure by Carlos Delgado, a strikeout with the bases loaded. On Valverde’s first pitch, Wright singled to center, winning the game.

“The big thing is to relax,” Wright said. “Don’t get caught up in the moment. You have to want to be up there with the game on the line.”

It’s all Wright for Mets fans to know that: David Wright’s 4 walk-off RBI in 2006 are 1 shy of the Mets record for walk-off RBI in a season. George Foster had 5 in 1983.

No. 5: June 23, 2007 vs Athletics (single)
This was the opposite of the last couple of Wright walk-offs, a pitcher’s duel between Orlando Hernandez and Joe Blanton. The Mets best scoring threat in the sixth inning ended with Ricky Ledee being thrown out at the plate.

The Diamondbacks left the go-ahead run on second base in the ninth inning against Billy Wagner when Marco Scutaro and Travis Buck couldn’t bring him in.
The Mets brought in the winning run in the home ninth. Ramon Castro led off with a double and Carlos Beltran was then intentionally walked. Wright then blooped one to shallow right that Travis Buck dove for and missed. Castro (who wasn’t pinch-run for because Paul Lo Duca had been ejected earlier in the game) scored the winning run.

All Wright long, you know that: David Wright shares a December 20 birthday with 2 other notable New York baseball players – Fred Merkle (of the famous “Merkle’s Boner” blunder in 1908) and admirably-coiffed Oscar Gamble.

No. 6, April 29, 2008 vs Pirates
Against a Pirates team whose lineup featured both Jason Bay (LF) and Jose Bautista (3B), the Mets tried to give away a game, but failed. They had a 4-2 lead entering the eighth inning and the Pirates tied it with a run in the eighth and a run in the ninth.

It took until the 11th for the Mets to snatch this one, helped by a balk that moved Endy Chavez to second base. An intentional walk and a traditional walk followed and Wright hit the first pitch in the air down the right field line. When it landed just fair, the Mets were 5-4 winners.

It’s so Wright that … David Wright presently has 50.4 WAR (Baseball-Reference version). The other position player with 50.4 WAR is a 1940s star named Bob Elliott, who won an MVP for the Boston Braves in 1948. Elliott’s nickname could easily have been Wright’s nickname – “Mr. Team.”

No. 7, August 7, 2008 vs Padres (home run)
David Wright’s only walk-off home run came in this game against the Padres and former teammate, Heath Bell. It came after Jody Gerut tied the game with a ninth-inning home run against Scott Schoeneweis, who was subbing for injured closer Billy Wagner.

The home run hit off the retired number area in left, right between No. 41 (Tom Seaver) and No. 42 (Jackie Robinson). The most impressive thing about it was the height of the pitch. Wright looked like he made contact just above his ankles.

“I’m always celebrating everybody else’s,” Wright told reporters, referring to walk-off home runs. “But to be the one that jumps into the pile at home plate is pretty fun.”

The Wright answer is to know that … Baseball is hard. If you add the Wins Above Replacement totals of the players other than David Wright who were drafted from the 6th pick in the first round through the end of the first round (44th pick), they barely average 1 WAR per player. Wright has 50.4 WAR

No. 8, July 5, 2012 vs Phillies (single)
I have an affinity for the hit to tie, hit to win victories, as well as 6-5 walk-offs (see 1986 World Series, Game 6) so this one has a special place in walk-off annals for me.

That final score was achieved in a challenging fashion. A pitching matchup between Cole Hamels and R.A. Dickey led to a surprising number of runs and the Phillies handed a 5-4 lead to their closer, Jonathan Papelbon (who I nicknamed “Cobra Kai” because he struck me as villainous). Papelbon retired two of the first three, producing a scenario of man on third with two outs.

The next two at-bats were epic. Papelbon hit pinch-hitter Jordany Valdespin on a 3-2 pitch, then walked Ruben Tejada on another 3-2 pitch (the eighth pitch of the at-bat) to load the bases.

That brought Daniel Murphy, who hit a single off Papelbon’s foot to tie the game. Wright got jammed on the next pitch and hit a bloop to right field that Hunter Pence dove for and missed by about a foot, giving the Mets a comeback win.

“Our M.O. is we grind out games,” Wright said afterwards. “We don’t hit for much power, we don’t steal a lot of bases, but were grinders. We play the game to the last out

True David Wright fans know that … David Wright hit .300 in his first pro season – with Kingsport of the Appalachian League in 2001. That’s only four points off his career MLB batting average of .296.

No. 9, May 21, 2016 vs Brewers (single)
The last David Wright walk-off was a comeback effort that helped bail out a poor Jacob deGrom start (!) (5 innings, 4 runs). The Mets rallied from 4-1 down helped by a bullpen that pitched four scoreless innings and a two-run game-tying home run by Yoenis Cespedes.

Things stayed even until the ninth inning when Eric Campbell reached on an infield single, Kevin Plawecki walked, Matt Reynold’s sacrificed, and after an intentional walk to Curtis Granderson, Wright hit a line single on a 3-0 pitch to bring in the winning run.

“That is the guy we want up there,” Mets manager Terry Collins said.

It was your classic Wright hit, an opposite-field rocket line drive that was one of his trademarks in his Mets career.

A good way to go out on the walk-off front, unless he cares to share one more with us.

When you’re Wright, you’re Wright and you know that … Leaders in OPS+ among 3rd basemen who played at least 1,500 games: 1. Mike Schmidt (147), 2. Eddie Mathews (143), 3. Chipper Jones (141), 4. George Brett (135), 5. Home Run Baker (135), 6. David Wright (133).

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Joe DiMaggio hits in 56 straight games

This is the draft I submitted to my editors for the Joe DiMaggio chapter of The Yankees Index. Please excuse any typos or grammatical errors. They were cleaned up in the book.

If you wish to purchase The Yankees Index, you can do so at this link, or other online or retail book outlets..

<Chapter title> 56- Joe DiMaggio’s Hitting Streak
When we talk of unbreakable records, we can divide them into two types—the kind of records that can’t be broken today because of the way the game is played (for example, no pitcher is going to match Cy Young’s total of 751 career complete games) and those that can be broken, but just seem extraordinarily difficult to reach.

Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak from the 1941 season falls into the latter category. Anyone can have a hitting streak. But not everyone can have a long hitting streak.

“It would take a lot, but it’s conceivable,” said Lyle Spatz, chairman of the Society for Baseball Research.

It would take a lot. Consider the following:

Since DiMaggio broke the record, no one has gotten closer than a dozen games of the mark. The only one to do that was baseball’s all-time hit king, Pete Rose, who hit in 44 straight in 1978. Rose is the only one to even muster a 40-game streak. Hall-of-Famer Paul Molitor, who hit in 39 straight in 1987, and Jimmy Rollins, who hit in 38 straight spanning 2005 and 2006 are the only other players to get within 20 games of the mark.

Arguably the six best hitters who played after DiMaggio’s streak ended are Ted Williams, Tony Gwynn, Stan Musial, Wade Boggs, Rod Carew and Ichiro Suzuki. The only one of those to have a 30-game hitting streak was Musial, whose longest was exactly 30 in 1950.

Only four players have gotten halfway there this decade. Andre Ethier got to 30 games in 2011 and Dan Uggla got to 33 later that season. But that’s not even really that close.

“It was a fun run,” Uggla told reporters afterwards. “But all things have to come to an end some time.”

Lastly only one Yankees player has gotten halfway there since DiMaggio’s streak ended– Joe Gordon, who had a 29-gamer in 1942.

It is amazing how impressive DiMaggio’s hitting streak was in that context, and it was also amazing how well DiMaggio hit during the streak.

DiMaggio hit .408 and had 91 hits in the 56 games. He had 15 home runs, 55 RBIs and only five strikeouts. Amazingly, after the hitting streak ended against the Cleveland Indians on July 17, DiMaggio put together a 16-game streak. In 72 games, he totaled 120 hits and six strikeouts.

There wasn’t a pitcher in baseball capable of getting DiMaggio out consistently that season (in which he hit .357). Consider this: He had 66 at-bats against the four non-Yankees who finished in the top five in ERA. In those, he hit .394 with 11 walks and only one strikeout.

When DiMaggio broke Wee Willie Keeler’s single-season mark by hitting in his 45th straight game (which he did with a home run against the Red Sox), UPI sportswriter Harry Ferguson joked that Red Sox manager Joe Cronin started a lineup that included Jesse James, Robin Hood, Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves and John Dillinger, because only a burglar lineup was capable of robbing DiMaggio of hits.
“(Cronin) had it figured this way:

1. If you pitch low to DiMaggio, he will get a hit.
2. If you pitch high and outside to him, he will get a hit.
3. If you (A) fast ball him (B) slow ball him or (C) curve ball him, he will get a hit,” Ferguson wrote.

When DiMaggio did outfox that defensive alignment by hitting the ball out of reach, he simply said. “I’m going to try to keep right on hitting. After all, that’s what I’m supposed to do, record or no record.”

Today’s hitter faces a challenge in terms of hitting approach. Most hitters are encouraged to swing for the fences rather than swing for base hits (one result- there are twice as many strikeouts per game now as there were in 1941).

But DiMaggio was someone who could slug without striking out. He had 361 home runs and only 369 strikeouts. He may not be thought of as one of the game’s top sluggers, but his .579 career slugging percentage ranks 10th all-time.

Those who saw DiMaggio attest to how remarkable a player he was. Hall of Fame managers Connie Mack and Joe McCarthy, baseball legend Ted Williams all refer to DiMaggio as the greatest player they ever saw.

Bob Feller, whom DiMaggio dominated in his career, said that Williams was a better hitter, but DiMaggio was “the best all-around ballplayer I ever played against.”

What also made DiMaggio great was that he was a winner. He played in 10 World Series and the Yankees won nine of them. He had the World Series-winning hit that clinched Game 4 of the 1939 Series against the Reds. And he hit a game-winning home run against Hall-of-Famer Robin Roberts in game 2 of a four-game sweep of the Phillies in 1950.

“You know, some fellows play a whole lifetime without even smelling the roses,” DiMaggio said in a 1980 interview. “So that’s quite an accomplishment to be with a bunch of guys that were able to perform and bring you home with all these pennants and World Series.”

DiMaggio did have two advantages over today’s players in compiling his streak. There was no such thing as reliever specialization in that era, so teams did not bring right-handers out of the bullpen to face him as often as they might now.

Also, baseball was not yet integrated, which prevented DiMaggio from facing what was truly the best competition (his worst documented career 0-for is 0-for-8 against Negro League Legend Satchel Paige).

We close with this note: A 2009 mathematical study done by Josh Witten concluded that the chance of the streak being matched are 1 in every 350,000 2,000-game careers.

In other words, don’t expect that to happen any time soon.

Did you know? Over a 73-game span in 1941, Joe DiMaggio had at least one hit in 72 games. He totaled 120 hits and 6 strikeouts.

<>- Longest Hitting Streaks by Yankees- Since DiMaggio’s 56-game streak
Joe Gordon 1942 29
Derek Jeter 2006 25
Don Mattingly 1986 24

<> Joe DiMaggio’s Longest Hitting Streaks
1941 56
1940-41 24
1940 23
1937 22
1937 21
1950 19

<>Joe DiMaggio: During 56-Game Hitting Streak
Batting Average .408
Hits 91
Runs 56
Home Runs 15
Strikeouts 5

Yankees Index chapter: 4 straight wins in 1996 World Series

Here’s a sample chapter from “The Yankees Index,” my new book, recently published by Triumph Books. It makes a great Father’s Day gift. If you’d like to buy the paperback version, you can find it here. The Kindle version can be purchased here. The book can also be found at other online outlets and wherever books are sold.

<Chapter Title>1996 Yankees win 4 straight to overcome 2-0 deficit vs. Braves in World Series

The first moment in the first night of the most recent Yankees dynasty was a case of déjà vu for David Cone.

This was the sixth inning of Game 3 of the World Series in Atlanta, with the Yankees trailing in the series 2-games-to-none and clinging to a 2-1 lead.

The Braves had the bases loaded with two outs and Cone had just walked Ryan Klesko to put themselves in great position to score. A year earlier, in a similar situation against the Mariners in the eighth inning of Game 5 of the ALDS, Cone walked Doug Strange to bring in the tying run in a game and series the Yankees would go on to lose.

Cone still had a one-run cushion this time, but the Braves had the perfect setup to take the lead, with catcher Javy Lopez at the plate. Lopez, the MVP of that year’s NLCS, was hitting .439 in the postseason entering that at-bat and had singled in his previous turn against Cone. Another hit would likely give the Braves the lead.

In 1995, Joe Torre (yes, I know, it’s Buck Showalter, but I made the mistake in the book, so I’m noting it here) had gone to Mariano Rivera after the walk to Strange and Rivera was again warming in the bullpen, but Torre stuck it out with Cone, who was flustered after a close pitch to Klesko was called ball four. Cone was a gutsy competitor and the feeling from Torre and Mel Stottlemyre was that he would figure out a way to get an out.

Atlanta had romped in the previous two games of the series  and this was a situation in which the Yankees’ season was on the line.

Cone composed himself and threw a perfect breaking ball that Lopez swung through for strike one. Cone threw another breaking ball, this one was a hanger, but Lopez popped it up in foul territory to the right side. Catcher Joe Girardi raced over by the stands, focused, and made the catch, hanging on as he stumbled to avoid running into two security officers.

“It was definitely a mistake but I got away with it,” Cone told reporters afterwards.

It was one of many times the Yankees would come through in this game and the next three. The Yankees hung on to win Game 3, 5-2

“I believe with one win that the whole mood and momentum changes,” Torre said.

But that didn’t happen at the outset of Game 4.

This time the Yankees trailed 6-0 after five innings and were on the brink of trailing 3-games-to-1. But a three-run rally in the sixth inning cut the lead to 6-3 and put the Yankees in position for a late-game rally.

The one that came in the eighth inning against Braves closer Mark Wohlers started innocuously when Charlie Hayes led off with a swinging bunt that appeared to be heading foul, but hugged the foul-line chalk for about 50 feet before coming to a stop just shy of third base. Hayes’ single was followed by another by Darryl Strawberry.

Mariano Duncan than hit a grounder to short that looked like a double play ball, but Braves shortstop Rafael Belliard bobbled it and was only able to get a force at second base.  Not getting both outs became pivotal.

Wohlers entered the day having thrown 7 1/3 scoreless innings with 11 strikeouts that postseason thanks largely to a 99-mile-per-hour fastball. But his air of invincibility disappeared with a hanging 2-2 slider he threw to Jim Leyritz. The Yankees backup catcher took a full albeit awkward swing and watched the ball carry  and carry until it just eluded the leaping attempt by Andruw Jones at the left field wall.

Tie game.

“He doesn’t get to play a whole lot,” Torre said afterwards. “And he’s struggled this year. But he can hit a ball out of a ballpark.”

The Yankees got a rally going with two outs and nobody on in the 10th inning. Braves manager Bobby Cox gambled by intentionally walking hot-hitting Bernie Williams with two men on base to load the bases for Wade Boggs.

The strategy backfired when Boggs, who possessed one of the best batting eyes in baseball history, worked his way back from a 1-2 count to draw a walk. The Yankees added another run when first baseman Ryan Klesko muffed a popup and won, 8-6. That tied the series at two games apiece.

It was the fifth late-game comeback by the Yankees in that postseason (they had two in each of the first two rounds).

Game 5 wouldn’t require a comeback, but it was epic nonetheless, arguably one of the best pitcher’s duels in World Series history, pitting Andy Pettitte against 24-game winner John Smoltz, who was 4-0 in that postseason to that point.

Again the Yankees would capitalize on a Braves mistake, this one being a dropped fly ball by four-time Gold Glove-winning centerfielder Marquis Grissom in the fourth inning, putting Charlie Hayes on second base. He scored  on Cecil Fielder’s double.

That run held up … barely.

The Braves put at least one man on base in each of the last six innings, but could not bring one around to home plate. Pettitte stymied them time and time again.

“Andy Pettitte was a classic pitcher tonight,” said rightfielder Paul O’Neill.

Their best chance came in the ninth inning, thanks to a leadoff double by Chipper Jones, who advanced to third base on Fred McGriff’s groundout.

Whether the Yankees would take a lead back to New York came down to closer John Wetteland’s ability to get two outs without letting Jones score.

Lopez got another chance at a potential game-breaking hit, but on Wetteland’s first pitch, he grounded to Hayes, who went to a knee to make sure the ball didn’t get past him. After an intentional walk, Cox sent up former Yankee Luis Polonia.

Wetteland came after Polonia with high fastballs and on the seventh pitch, Polonia whacked one to right center  field. It had the potential to be a game-winning double. But O’Neill, running on a bad hamstring, made a running catch near the warning track to give the Yankees a one-run win and a 3-2 series lead.

“My thought process was to try to get to it,” O’Neill said. “I thought off the bat I had a good play on it. But it just kept carrying and carrying.”

“It’s a game of inches,” lamented Braves manager Bobby Cox.

At that point, the 1996 Yankees could not be stopped and would not be stopped, even though they were going up against another great pitcher in Greg Maddux in Game 6 at Yankee Stadium. They took a 3-0 lead in the third inning with the key hit being a triple to center by catcher Joe Girardi against his former Cubs teammate.

The Braves clawed back with a run in the fourth, but Jimmy Key shut down any further offense by inducing a bases-loaded double play from Terry Pendleton.

The Yankees bullpen took over in the sixth inning and held the score at 3-1 heading into the ninth. Wetteland, going for his fourth save of the series, ran into trouble as the Braves cut the lead to 3-2 on Marquis Grissom’s two-out single.

With the tying run on second, Wetteland induced a popup from Mark Lemke right by the Braves dugout.  Hayes ran into a Braves player who stepped out of the dugout and took a tumble, but could not make the play.

That was the kind of ‘so-close’ that the Yankees had capitalized on throughout this comeback. But the Braves could not take advantage. On 3-2, Lemke again popped one foul on the third base side.

This time no one got in Hayes’ way. When he made the catch, the Yankees were champions for the first time in 18 years in one of their hardest-fought World Series triumphs.

<Inline>Yankees vs Braves, 1996 World Series

Yankees     Braves

Runs        18          26

Batting Avg .254        .216

HR          2           4

<Bar Graph>

1st 2 games  Last 4 Games

Braves      16    Yankees     17

Yankees 1   Braves            10

<Pie Graph>

Yankees World Series Wins- Series Lengths

4 Games     8 times

5 Games     6 times

6 Games     8 times

7 Games     5 times

<Sidebar>Did You Know? The Yankees are one of 3 teams to come back to win a World Series after losing the first 2 games at home (along with the 1985 Royals and 1986 Mets).

<Sidebar>Did You Know? The comeback from six runs down is tied for the second-biggest deficit overcome in a World Series win.

Sources

Yankeeography, David Cone

Giannone, John “A Yanks Cone-Back.” New York Daily News, October 23: Page 57.

Harper, John “Cone’s 6th Sense Tired, But He Knew He’d Get McGriff.” New York Daily News, October 23, 1996: Page 60.

Kriegel, Mark “Leyritz Gets 2nd Chance.” New York Daily News, October 24, 1996: Page 74.

Lupica, Mike “Yankee Doodle Andy; Kid Lays Down The Lore.” New York Daily News, October 25, 1996: Page 76.

O’Connor, Ian “Here’s Paul Giving His All.” New York Daily News, October 25, 1996: Page 78.

Zack, Bill “Error of Their Ways.” Chattanooga Times Free Press, October 25, 1996: Page 1.

What the 1986 Mets mean to me

This website was intended to promote my Yankees book, but I’m posting this here because I thought people would be interested in learning more about me.

What do the 1986 Mets mean to me?

I was thinking about that this week, with it being “1986 Weekend” at Citi Field as the Mets face the Dodgers.

I was 11 in 1986 and at that point in my life, I was watching a lot of baseball, in the early part of an accumulation of obsessiveness that would lead me down the path that took me to the career I currently have. That team established early on that they were going to be a big deal. They were going to smash both baseballs and their opponents. They were going to win with pitchers who brought both power and finesse. I wasn’t the only one in New York who revered them. The team was a citywide obsession.

When I think of the 1986 Mets, I think of baseball dominance. They’re the last NL team to win at least 108 games in a season. They won 18 of 19 in one stretch, 19 of 24 in another. They won twice as many games as they lost against six different teams. They won the NL East by 21 ½ games.

But more than that, I think of inspiration. The 1986 Mets won games they had no business winning whatsoever. One favorite came on July 3 against the Astros and I like it because of its foreshadowing. The Mets trailed 5-3 in the bottom of the 10th inning, but scored three runs to win, the winning run scored by Ray Knight, who struck out four times in a row, but followed with a walk-off home run.

Another is a game against the Reds on July 22. I didn’t get to stay up to see the end of this one, because it went 14 innings, but I remember how the Mets tied it—when Keith Hernandez’s potential game-ending fly ball was muffed by Dave Parker, allowing two runs to score.

Then, there are the famous games, like Game 6 of the NLCS against the Astros. I have a funny story about that one. My mom made me go to Hebrew School (which I hated) in the middle of the game. But to show just how obsessed everyone was with the Mets that season, we were told that another class would join us for a group project. The group project turned out to be listening to the ninth inning on a transistor radio brought in by the other class’s teacher (funny note: among those in the class: New York Daily News Yankees beat writer Mark Feinsand). So that’s how I heard the Mets three-run comeback to tie the game in the ninth inning. They won in 16 excruciating innings and I was home in time for Billy Hatcher’s tying home run in the 14th and Jesse Orosco’s game-ending strikeout in the 16th.

Years later, I would use the audio tape of that ninth-inning rally as my psyche tape any time I had a big exam (like my high school entrance exam and the SATs). And it worked well in conjunction with Eye of the Tiger.

There’s also Game 6 of the World Series, where once again, the Mets trailed 5-3 in the 10th inning and were one out from defeat when they rallied to score three runs. I took a spot on the floor, in front of my dad and his friends (one of whom fell asleep!) When Bob Stanley began pitching to one, I said aloud “Wouldn’t it be funny if there was a balk or wild pitch or something crazy here” and one of my dad’s friends took that up saying “yeah, a wild pitch, a wild pitch.”

Sometimes you can see it coming.

Game 6 of the World Series is a personal obsession and I suppose that’s not surprising. I’ve read and written a lot about it. In fact, when they gave us access to a new newspaper database at work, my means of testing it was to see how many different newspaper stories I could find from the day after that game. I printed out a rather nice collection of about 40. As Hall-of-Fame honoree Bus Saidt wrote “I’m sitting here and I still don’t believe it.”

The Mets won the World Series two days later and I remember it modestly well, though not quite as well as some of the other games along the way. That season was about journey as much as it was about final destination.

The one other thing I think about sometimes with the 1986 Mets is Cherish the Moment. That was the theme of my graduation from P.S. 190, and when I struggled with the speech I had to give as one of the sixth grade class reps (okay, “valedictorian” if you want to call it that), my mom suggested talking about the 1986 Mets and cherishing their championship. I didn’t, but looking back, it was a pretty good idea.

My father has said to me many times that you have to appreciate every championship your team wins, because you never know when the next one may be. The players on the 1986 Mets were supposed to win a lot of championships, but along the paths of their respective lives, they cherished the moment a little too hard and a little too much. They made mistakes and did some really dumb things. They came close, but they never could reach the pinnacle. The Mets haven’t won a World Series since.

But I have no regrets or bad thoughts when I think of the 1986 Mets. I cherish every moment from that season like no other. It’s one that will remain fondly with me for the rest of my lifetime as a baseball fan.

Remembering John Brophy

Legendary hockey coach John Brophy died this morning.

In 2000, I wrote a profile of him for the Trenton Times. He was a fascinating person to talk to and learn about, because he basically had 2 personas. Hopefully you’ll like what I wrote.

 

Brophy: Love him or hate him

Author: MARK SIMON; Times sports writer

NORFOLK, Va. _ At the end of this story, you will either love John Brophy or you will hate him.

 

It is a requirement for anyone in the ECHL _ whether you be a fan, player, coach or media member _ to feel some sort of emotions towards this silver- haired 66-year-old man, a hockey legend.

 

To fully understand Brophy, you must comprehend the fact that there are seemingly two of him. There is the good Brophy, the one who gave us 45 minutes of his time and told us we could learn more from him if we had another five hours to spare. There is also the bad Brophy, the one who hasn’t spoken to one of the team’s beat reporters for nearly a month.

 

The good Brophy has enhanced the careers of hundreds of players that he has worked with in 27 seasons as a professional hockey coach including the past 11 with the Hampton Roads Admirals. Among those he has developed at various levels are former NHLers Rick Vaive, Rob Ramage, Craig Hartsburg, Guy Carbonneau, and current Washington Capitals goaltender Olaf Kolzig. The good Brophy has won more than 900 games, second in pro hockey to Scotty Bowman, and three ECHL championships, including one with an Admirals team that made the playoffs as the lowest seed in the Northern Conference. He is the winningest coach in ECHL history.

 

”He wants to win hockey games,” said former Admirals owner Blake Cullen, ”not for himself, but for the team and for the city. He has a total one-track focus. It’s good old-fashioned pride in the hockey sweater.”

 

THE GOOD Brophy is a master motivator, as good at getting his team to respond as anyone who has worked in the sport.

 

”He demands the most out of his players,” said current Hampton Roads captain Rich Kowalsky. ”He has changed a lot of players’  careers. He has an association with winning and he wants to win at all costs. He’s never had a player not give 100 percent. No one who has ever come here has coasted.”

 

”I’m interested in finding out how far a player can go,” said Brophy, who came to the Admirals after being fired from his dream job, coaching the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1987 to 1989. ”There is no secret (to motivating). Some players will do more then others. I’ll stay all day with them at the rink if they want. You can’t make a player in an hour-and-a-half (of practice). Most of our players don’t really know what they have to do to get better. You have to stick it down their throat.”

 

The bad Brophy has gone too far many times.

 

Earlier this season when he cut Shaun Peet (now with the South Carolina Stingrays), he made Peet throw his skates in the garbage in front of the entire team. He once took a jersey, dunked it in Gatorade and made a player wear it for a game. When an overweight Al Iafrate was coming up with the Maple Leafs, Brophy made him shed the excess pounds in a sauna _ in full uniform.

 

”The last thing I want to do,” the good Brophy said during our discussion, ”is tell a player he’s not good enough to do his job. I don’t ever try to disrespect a player. ”

 

”WHEN HE snaps, he snaps,” Kowalsky said. ”The guys learn not to get caught up in it. You can’t let him get you down.”

 

”It’s nothing personal,” Brophy said. ”It’s just hockey.”

 

Brophy-snaps are as legendary as the man himself. Those offended easily should not sit behind the Hampton Roads bench when the Admirals come to Trenton on Jan. 22. He can be mad when the Admirals win. He will be mad if the Admirals lose.

 

John Brophy,” said Virginian Pilot sportswriter Tris Wykes, who covers the Admirals and to whom Brophy hasn’t spoken since early December, ”is the most profane man I have ever met.”

 

In more than 20 years of minor league hockey, playing for teams like the Troy Uncle Sam Trojans of the Eastern League, Brophy set the minor league record for career penalty minutes. This was at a time when play resembled the bumble-and-rumble style from the famous hockey movie ”Slapshot.” An article in the Admirals game program describes him as ”an intense, and at times ruthless defenseman.”

 

Cullen heard Brophy once tell a story where he found out that one of the players on an opposing team was a Mormon, who refused to play on Sunday.

 

The player was finally persuaded to play against Brophy’s team that Sunday by his coach. At the opening faceoff for that game, Brophy took his stick and smashed it against the player’s leg. ”You,” he said to the player, who was writhing in pain on the ice, ”picked the wrong Sunday.”

 

IF YOU detest him at this point, you’re not the only one.

 

Around the league, particularly in Roanoke and Richmond (which played its 100th game against the Brophy-coached Admirals last Sunday), fans and even opposing coaches have gone at it with Brophy, both verbally and physically.

 

”Those opinions,” the good Brophy said of his detractors, ”have nothing to do with how I am. I don’t mean to come off as a stupid guy.”

 

Taunting the bad Brophy is a big mistake. He has attempted to go after fans in the stands many times, one time even tossing a hacksaw blade at a would be heckler (he missed). He has been reprimanded, suspended and even arrested for his actions during games.

 

”Sometimes,” the good Brophy said, ”you do things you wish you could have back.”

Which brings us back to that Brophy, the one whom Wykes said is wonderfully polite around women, little children and animals. The one that Cullen said would lie down in front of a zamboni for his players. This is a man who loves his wife, former LPGA golfer Nancy White and who treat his three dogs Novie, Scotia (whom were named after Brophy’s birthplace, Nova Scotia) and Mud Duck like royalty. He used to let those dogs go out on the ice after practice and shovel up dog poop himself after they had relieved themselves.

 

The fans of Hampton Roads revere him like a god. He could have left many times but never did. When Brophy was hired, he requested that a clause enabling him to leave for a higher-level position be removed from his contract so that he could totally focus on this team. The people here will miss him dearly should he not end up coaching the Admirals when they move up to the American Hockey League next season.

 

”John,” Cullen said of a man he considers to be a lifelong friend, ”has had more to do with the growth and the success of the ECHL then any other individual. There is nobody like him.”

The little boy and the book

Once upon a time there was a little boy. The little boy wasn’t very good at sports, and others often made fun of this, but he liked sports. He liked sports a lot, because when he liked something, he usually liked it a lot.

The little boy wasn’t good at sports, but he liked to write. He liked to write even before he knew how to write. The little boy would go with his mom on the bus and see things and if an idea popped into his head, he’d tell her to write it down. If she didn’t write it down, he’d repeat it, over and over again. Once the little boy learned to write, he’d write things down himself. He still does. A lot.

The little boy didn’t just like to write. He liked to read. He liked stories and newspaper articles. The little boy was reading the newspaper when he was five. He tended to gravitate to the box scores and the statistics.

The little boy also liked books.  And he didn’t just read books. He’d read them with intensity. When the little boy’s fourth-grade class went away for a few days and others went on outdoor adventures, the little boy pulled out his “Mel Martin” baseball books, sat on his bed and read. If a class had a substitute teacher, the little boy put a book on his lap, put his head on the desk, and read for over an hour without so much as looking up.

The little boy also liked math, from the time he would play with his grandma’s adding machine in her house in Elmont. Growing up, he was always a step ahead of the others in his class. When they were adding, he was multiplying.  When they were subtracting, he was dividing.

For whatever reason, numbers came easy to the little boy. When he was seven, he got a book called The Bill James Baseball Abstract. It had a lot of complicated math, and the little boy didn’t know what to do with it. But he liked the book anyway, because it was about sports and it was about numbers.

Fast forward through life a little bit. The little boy was lucky. He went to a good high school and a good college and got a lot of practice at what he wanted to do. He eventually got to be a sportswriter and a sportscaster and a researcher, which allowed him to write, read,  do math and talk, all at the same time. People thought he was  good at what he did. They liked his articles, his broadcasts and his research. And he liked that people liked him and liked his work.

Now the little boy has written a book. In the book, he looked a lot up, he wrote a lot down,  he did a lot of math and most importantly, he told a lot of stories.  He’s really excited about the book and he really hopes that you will be too.

You can buy “The Yankees Index” at this link or at an online retailer or bookstore near you.

The little boy photo

Frequently Asked Questions about “The Yankees Index”

Yankees book
My Yankees book (published by Triumph Books) is available for pre-order.

Frequently Asked Questions About “The Yankees Index”

How can I purchase the book?
You can find it at TriumphBooks.com or other common online outlets where books are sold. It will also be available in bookstores (both chain and independent) throughout the tri-state area.

How did you come to write a Yankees book?
I had previously proofread and fact-checked books for Tim Kurkjian, Buster Olney and Jayson Stark. Jayson put me in touch with management at Triumph Books, and I told them I would like to write a baseball book someday. They promised to get back in touch.

They kept their promise. I heard from them about 9 months later. They were looking for someone to write a stat/history-based book on the Yankees. I expressed interest and we were able to make a deal.

How long did it take you to do?
I started writing in February 2015 and finished about 10 days ahead of the deadline at the end of September. It took a little while to get going, but I established a writing routine of doing about 90 minutes of work per day if I was working, and anywhere from that long to 6 hours if I wasn’t.

The fun part was looking up tidbits in the newspapers and doing interviews with players and others close to the team. The most challenging part was transcribing those interviews.

How did you decide where to start?

The first chapter I did was on Ron Guidry. That was my “audition,” which thankfully was quickly approved. I did Guidry because I wanted to do something that wasn’t Ruth, DiMaggio or Mattingly, but was still important.

Once I got started, I made a list of everything that I thought should be in the book. The original list probably numbered close to 100. I made it a point to include things that people might not know about, like Slow Joe Doyle’s shutout record. I went page by page through the Elias Book of Baseball Records to try to find things like that.

And then I just picked off the subjects that interested me on that particular day. Some days I was in the mood for Babe Ruth. Some, I was in the mood to call a player.

Who was your favorite interview?
Every interview was fun in its own way, but my two favorites were Dr. Bobby Brown and Aaron Small.

Bobby Brown is 90, but if you talked to him, you’d think he was 60. He was super-sharp and every story he told about the 1950s Yankees checked out. I’d heard him speak at a SABR convention and he was awesome. He was just as good when I got him.

Aaron Small was very humbled by the idea that I wanted to do a chapter on him in a book that was mostly about megastar players like Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle and Jeter. He was so nice and his story is so interesting and remarkable.

The most nervous I was for an interview was for Don Mattingly, who I got for about 10 minutes. Funny anecdote: I was driving on a highway when he called. I never talk on the phone when I’m driving, so I pushed the speakerphone button and screamed out: “Mr. Mattingly, Mr. Mattingly….please, please please hold on. I’m pulling off an exit and I’ll be about 30 seconds.”

I thought he was going to hang up, but he didn’t. He said “Sure. Not a problem at all.”

It’s good to know Don Mattingly is a courteous human.

What makes your book distinct?
The official historian of MLB, John Thorn, gave me a great answer for that: It’s a book of new takes on old tales. Just about every Yankees story has been told in some way, shape or form. This book does it a little differently. It uses a combination of numbers and words to illustrate greatness and provide historical context. I also dug up some perspectives that haven’t been shared often.

Additionally, this is a very reader-friendly book: There are a lot of charts, graphs and visuals to complement the writing.

I also think it makes for great bathroom reading. You can read the chapters in whatever order you wish. They’re all short.

How did you decide what to include and what to cut?

I started by writing about just about everything on my list. The book was intended to have a 65,000 word count. My first draft was 85,000 words. So I looked over what I had and cut things that were of lesser significance. But I didn’t eliminate them. I turned them into the short blurbs you’ll see at the end of a lot of chapters.

Are you a Yankees fan?
I am not. But I like baseball, I like stories, I like numbers, and I respect the Yankees history and tradition.

Do you have advice for anyone writing a book?
A couple things:

1) Don’t do it for the money

2)Write about a topic you’re passionate about

3)Come up with either a gameplan or outline that you can stick to over however long you have to write it.

Do you plan to write another book?
I do. The only thing I’ll say is that I think it will be a Mets book.

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