I can't get the image out of my head.
From my seat behind home plate just below the broadcast booth on a perfect Memorial Day weekend evening, Gary Carter's widow, Sandy, and their son DJ (who so resembles his Hall of Fame father both in looks and shiny disposition), walked towards the Citi Field infield from center field. The Mets were honoring members of their last world championship team, the 1986 Mets, and as raucous cheers filled the stadium as each was introduced and walked down what had to be the Guinness World Record's longest red carpet, no response was as loud or as emotional as that given for Sandy and DJ.
The 1986 Mets, long marginalized by the organization by being limited to minor league and baseline coaching positions--and kept from positions of authority in the big league club's dugout and front office--were given the royal treatment by ownership on this particular weekend. They were put up at a posh, Madison Avenue hotel, thrown a dinner party in their honor, and permitted to bring family members along to share in the experience of their 30th anniversary celebration of their World Series championship at Citi Field.
But one thing was missing that would not only have been appropriate, but also would have brought perfection to the weekend celebration.
In a summer when the Mets will retire the number of Mike Piazza, who enters the HOF in July, it was beyond me how the club's only Hall of Famer from that storied '86 team who helped bring the Mets a long-awaited World Series title that Piazza never could, didn't have his Number 8 retired. How perfect would that have been, with Sandy and DJ on the field (and Gary's two daughter's and families in a luxury suite), to receive word from the golden voice of the MC Howie Rose that the Mets were retiring Carter's number?
Now for those of you that read my drivel in this blog, you know my position on retiring numbers--I think it's been grossly overdone by clubs and used as a way to sell tickets. But if any Met ever deserved the honor, especially in the setting of the 30th anniversary of the '86 season, it was their co-captain, Gary Carter.
And while they were at it, they could have done the same for Keith Hernandez, who had as much to do with the resurrection of a moribund franchise than any of the '86 Mets. You could also make a case for Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Mookie Wilson, or Jesse Orosco, but those arguments are for another blog.
But on this evening, how fitting would it have been to have added another catcher aside from Piazza to the rafters of retired numbers at Citi Field.
A missed opportunity for sure.
There once was a schoolboy, not unlike hundreds of thousands or even millions of other children just like him throughout the United States and Canada, that brought a transistor radio to school on baseball's Opening Day. He could usually catch the start of the fourth or fifth inning while walking home from school. Growing up in Northern New Jersey, there was usually a chill in the air but Opening Day, with Catfish Hunter or Tom Seaver toeing the rubber for the home teams, meant that winter was, at last, over.
As I write this blog, the first game of the new MLB season is taking place. It's a Sunday afternoon. Yet, even the most ardent baseball fans outside of Pittsburgh and St. Louis wouldn't know it's even taking place. There will be a contest tonight in Kansas City between the Royals and Mets which will begin at 8:30 PM. Opening Day (or Night) for the defending champions of each league. Children, like the one with the transistor radio, might get to watch a couple of innings at most because of the late start time.
There will be more openers scattered about the day tomorrow, which will lack the pomp-and-circumstance of years past. For the most part, they'll be treated almost like any of the other 161 regular season games.
For many decades, the Major League season began in Cincinnati. A parade was held in the morning before that afternoon's game. It was the official kickoff of the season. It meant something.
Today, that schoolboy from Northern New Jersey, now middle-aged, is lamenting what has become of Opening Day on social media with others from his generation. Some things shouldn't be all about money, about networks making a few extra advertising dollars by having games start in nighttime frigid temperatures and alienating young fans (and older ones as well).
The same goes for the playoffs and the World Series.
If baseball wants it's young fans back, and away from the growing popularity of basketball and soccer, it needs to go back to its traditional roots of what made it the national pastime.
Kings of Queens: Life Beyond Baseball With The '86 Mets, was, at long last, released today. This represents the culmination of nearly two years of hard work and much travel which didn't include a single day I wasn't writing, interviewing, re-writing, editing, publicizing, or much less thinking incessantly about this topic. One tip for anyone considering writing a novel--you better be obsessed about the subject you are writing about or it will be pure torture.
But in my case, with the '86 Mets, I have thankfully always been riveted.
So whether this book turns out to be a best-seller or an also-ran, it has been the signature writing assignment of my lifetime. Darryl Strawberry called me yesterday to say how much he loved the book and that he felt the '86 Mets were waiting for the right author to come around to entrust the telling of their deepest reflections of their lives--that obviously meant a lot. Others like Mookie and Ed Hearn and Doug Sisk have expressed similar sentiments to me.
There have also been numerous individuals who have helped guide and support me behind the scenes--too many to name here and I wouldn't want to leave anybody out. But for those who read my blogs, or check in on my FB pages, you can probably figure out who they are.
And I thank all of you for allowing me to share my journey through the photos and notes I have posted. I am sure there may have been times when you thought--Geez, another posting about Kings of Queens! To that, I would say, this is the social media life we live in and the best way authors can get the word out about their projects. Most people understand that much of the publicity efforts involved with a book are left to the authors themselves nowadays. Still, thanks for hanging in there and I hope you've been interested, amused, and maybe even intrigued by some of the posts.
For those of you that have picked up a copy of Kings of Queens or plan to, drop me a line and let me know your thoughts. Authors crave feedback--the good, the bad and the ugly--because it helps make us better on ensuing projects.
Thank you all!
April 7 – Mookie Wilson/Erik Sherman Booksigning
March 1, 2016 by Nikki Morton
On the 30th anniversary of the unforgettable world champion 1986 Mets, former star Mookie Wilson and best-selling author Erik Sherman will discuss and sign copies of Sherman’s new book, “Kings of Queens: Life Beyond Baseball with the ’86 Mets.”
The event is from 6 p.m.-7:30 p.m. $30 per book. To RSVP call (973) 655-2378.
I never thought I would see the day. Major League Baseball is apparently prepared to leave significant money on the table to shorten game times and, in the process, increase the level of enjoyment for the fans watching it's product.
While most of the media attention today is going to the other rule change--how the slide rule will be further enforced to protect vulnerable middle infielders from getting leveled like Ruben Tejada was by Chase Utley last October, I believe shortening commercial breaks by twenty seconds each half inning is the bigger story. This will take at least a full six minutes off a full nine-inning game. It will also create a better game flow and less channel clicking by fans watching at home.
This is clearly an effort by MLB to keep younger fans interested in baseball, as many have embraced the faster paced action of sports like basketball and football (although the NFL has had their own issues in recent years with games running too long).
This is a good move by MLB. Now a good next step would be to have Saturday World Series day games and earlier start times for the post-season night games.
While I'm more a fan of the ring-of-honor or plaques placed on bullpen walls to honor baseball greats, by today's standards, what Mike Piazza did for the Mets franchise likely merits his having his number thirty-one retired. But in the bigger picture, this probably represents a shift in the Mets way of thinking in terms of retiring numbers.
Tom Seaver was the last and really only Mets' player to have his number retired. Up until today, the Mets viewed putting uniform numbers out of circulation for only those rare exceptions--Seaver was The Franchise, Gil Hodges the manager who guided the lovable losing Mets into World Champions, and Casey Stengel was the HOF skipper who got it all started as their first pilot. Jackie Robinson's 42, of course, is retired everywhere.
So by retiring Piazza's number, can the Mets really stop there?
There is big money in retiring numbers and the cash-strapped Mets, temporarily at least even more so after the Yoenis Cespedes signing, need the money. A Piazza weekend is set for this summer and the festivities will no doubt bring in legions of the former catcher's fans. The promotional opportunities are endless.
And that leads us to others in Mets' history who are at least as deserving as Piazza. Keith Hernandez, for his imprint on the organization's turnaround, is a no-brainer. Then there's Darryl Strawberry, still their all-time home run leader. Doc Gooden. Mookie Wilson. Gary Carter. Some would even argue John Franco.
A can of worms has been opened. It will be interesting to see where it leads.
Yoenis Cespedes somehow, some way, got the "broke" New York Mets to pony up $75 million on a three year contract.
It was a brilliant move by both the Mets and for Cespedes.
The Mets, who now solidify themselves as a strong contender for the World Series trophy while they still have the rights to their stable of young, stud arms, will make the money they will pay Cespedes in droves by packing Citi Field on a regular basis over the next three summers.
Just as critical, it would have been a disaster had Cespedes joined Daniel Murphy in the Washington Nationals' lineup.
For Cespedes, who can opt out after this season if he has a monster year, this was a no-brainer. He also now becomes a Met fan favorite on the level of a David Wright, having left $25 million on the table that he would have received from the arch rival Nationals on a five year deal.
In short, Cespedes officially became a Met last night.
The signing also represents some stability for Cespedes, who has played on four teams in two years.
For Mets' fans, there are now no longer any excuses for not selling out Citi Field nightly. The Mets are a better team than they were in October--having addressed all of their weaknesses at second base, shortstop, the left side of the bullpen, and now, a much-needed slugger in the three hole of the lineup.
Mets' fans, who have rightfully complained about the direction of the organization for years, no longer have any excuses but to embrace this ball club.
It was one of those perfect San Francisco summer mornings by Fisherman's Wharf back in the summer of '79. The daily fog had cleared to blue skies and a stiff breeze was coming off the bay. I was thirteen years old and just couldn't wait for my father, his wife and her son to get ready, so I left the hotel and walked over to DiMaggio's Restaurant overlooking the pier. My curiosity had gotten the best of me. I knew the place wasn't open for business yet, but I thought maybe, just maybe, Joltin' Joe might be there, perhaps having a cup of coffee.
The entrance was open despite the "Closed" sign that hung on the door and I walked up a flight of stairs. I told one of the workers, who was vacuuming, that I was a baseball fan and wondered if Joe DiMaggio was in so I could just say hello. He went back to the kitchen and, instead, out came a friendly man in his sixties--the other DiMaggio all-star center fielder--Dominic.
I knew enough about Dominic-- that he starred for the Red Sox during the same era as his iconic brother and, perhaps being somewhat impressed that a young kid recognized him for the player he was, offered me a seat at a table with him to talk baseball over two glasses of orange juice.
It was baseball nirvana.
I reached into my pocket near the end of our conversation about his glory days and my little league season and found a scrap of paper for him to sign. I still have it today.
The chance encounter was the highlight of my two week vacation to California.
I guess the moral of the story is to be grateful when others keep you waiting!
Erik's thoughts on current events in baseball