Mar 28, 2019

Remembering Mets History: The Mets Bullpen Cart

What fan from the sixties through the eighties can forget the old baseball shaped bullpen carts. When a relief pitcher was brought into a game, he would get driven from the bullpen along the foul lines to the pitchers mound area near the dugouts. There he would exit, leave his jacket with the driver & proceed to walk to the mound. The vision of the Mets great reliever, Tug McGraw comes to mind immediately.

The Mets bullpen cart was the first of it's kind. Other teams had started the practice of driving the pitcher to the mound back in the fifties & the Los Angeles Dodgers were the first to use an actual golf cart. But the Mets were the first to put a team cap /helmet on the top of the vehicle.

The cart was a 1967 electric powered Presidente Cart. It was battery operated with a steering wheel on the drivers left side. The cart was shaped like an actual baseball, complete with red stitching on the sides of the front of the cart. 

The seats were white cushioned, designed to look like bases & the floor area was green representing grass on the baseball field. 

The front had two bats supporting the Mets cap / helmet which sat atop as the roof, complete with the Mets orange NY logo on it, classic stuff!

In 2015 the cart was auctioned off by Sotheby's, expecting to go for $25,000 range it sold for an Amazing $112,500.

Over the last two years it seems the bullpen cart is making a comeback on the field in MLB. 

Mar 25, 2019

Remembering Mets History (1999): Mets GM Steve Phillips Fires Three of Bobby Valentines Coaches Without His Consent

Saturday June 9th 1999: After a Saturday subway series loss, the Mets were tumbling in a horrid eight game losing streak. In the off season the team had spent $165 million to upgrade the team. They were considered a wild card favorite & even a possible challenge for the Atlanta Braves. But at this point they were 27-28 & in third place.

After the game, in a heated meeting, the Mets Manager Bobby Valentine & GM Steve Phillips, vented their disagreements & frustrations to each other. Next to the shock of Bobby Valentine, three of his coaches were let go.

First, pitching coach & former Met pitcher, Bob Apodaca who had been with the organization for 28 years was let go. Over the previous two years, Apodaca had been credited with the Mets pitchers success. The 1998 staff was come in fourth in league ERA & sixth in wins (88). The 1997 staff was fourth in wins (88) & second in innings pitched & walks.

Valentine had once insisted that Apocada get signed to his staff, in order for him to ink a deal as manager. But at this point in 1999, early on the staff ERA was at 4.84 & every starter had a personal ERA over five. 

Quotes- Bob Apodaca: " All I know is that over the past three years, I have been prepared for every game & the pitchers have been prepared for every game. All I can say, is if I'm responsible for Al Leiter's knee, Bobby Jones' shoulder & for Rick Reed being on the DL, then I've got to go."

On the other end, Steve Phillips said he didn't like the was Apodaca was handeling the staff. He stated that one pitcher went as far as saying of Apodaca was fired, no one would complain.

Quotes- Steve Phillips: "We needed to make changes with the people who had the most immediate contact & responsibility with those departments. These are some areas where we are succeeding but not finishing the job. Other areas like pitching, we just aren't getting the job done."

Also getting the axe, were hitting coach Tom Robson, who had been with Valentine since his first managerial sting with the Texas Rangers. The Mets were eighth in runs scored but led the league in on base %. Strangely, Robson would be brought back in 2000, mostly to appease Valentine.

Bullpen coach, Randy Niemann was also let go, although the bullpen had been the best part of the team up to that point.

Needless to say, Valentine was furious at the actions taken on his staff. 

Steve Phillips claimed, the team had no intentions of firing Valentine, that he was their guy. Valentine would take the Mets to two straight post season appearances, including an NL Championship in 2000. 

Dave Wallace was named the new pitching coach, Mickey Brantley the new hitting coach & former Met pitcher & fan favorite, Al Jackson the new bullpen coach. The other three coaches, first base coach Mookie Wilson, third base coach Cookie Rojas & bench Coach Bruce Benedict were left untouched.

The next night, the Mets broke their losing streak on ESPN's Sunday Night baseball. They beat up on steroid user, Roger Clemens, breaking a personal win streak he had going. The Mets knocked him off the mound by the third inning after he had surrendered seven runs, including a two run Mike Piazza HR.

In any event, the Mets went on to win 40 of their next 55 games & tie for a wild card spot at the end of the regular season. They beat the Cincinnati Reds in that tie breaker, beat the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NLDS & ended the season losing to the Atlanta Braves in he NLCS in six games.

1999 NL Wild Card Champion Mets Hitting Coach: Mickey Brantley & His MLB Family

Michael Charles Brantley was born June 17th 1961 in Catskill, New York. The youngster starred in baseball, as well as soccer & basketball in the Catskill Mountain Region of New York. He was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the second round of the 1983 draft. He became known as Mickey Brantley.

Brantley played four years with the Mariners, seeing the most playing time in 1988 (149 games). In his MLB career he batted .259 lifetime, with 32 HRs 56 doubles 125 RBIs in 1222 games. Brantley then went on to play in Japan with the Yomiuri Giants.

He returned to MLB as a roving coach with the San Francisco Giants in 1994. From there he moved to the New York Mets organization, managing the St. Lucie Mets in 1996 & 1997.

 In 1999 the Mets front office, led by  GM Steve Phillips, fired most of Bobby Valentines coaching staff without consulting him. Mickey Bradley was brought in as the new Mets hitting coach.

At the point that Brantley took over as Hitting coach, the Mets went 70-38 the rest of the way, securing a tie for the Wild Card spot with the Cincinnati Reds. The Mets beat the Reds in a one game tie breaker, then beat the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NLDS, before falling to the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS in six games. The Mets finished second in the NL as a team with a .279 batting average, as well as second in walks, third in hits & overall best in on base %. No doubt that Brantley did a fantastic job.

Unfortunately, he did not return in 2000 as he went back to being a minor league hitting instructor. The Mets brought back Tom Robson in 2000, mostly as a peace gesture to Bobby Valentine, who was never told about his coaches being fired the previous season.

Brantley went on to coach with the Toronto Blue Jays through 2007.

Michael Brantley Jr.: Brantley's son, Michael was 12 at the time. He would attend the games & mimic stances of the Mets star hitters of the day, Mike Piazza, John Olerud, Edgardo Alfonzo & was in attendance at Shea Stadium, the day of Robin Ventura's walk off grand slam single in the NLCS. He would go on to a big league career of his own, starting just nine years down the road. 

Michael Brantley would play ten years (thru 2018) with the Cleveland Indians, batting .300 or better four times, leading the league in doubles in 2015 with 45, getting to three post seasons. In 2019 he signed on with the Houston Astros.

Justin Brantley: Justin is Mickey Brantley's nephew. The young pitcher briefly played in the Mets organization with the St. Lucie Mets in 2017. He had previously played in the Indians organization like his cousin. He then moved on to Independent League baseball.

Mar 23, 2019

Remembering Mets History (2007): Tom Glavine One Hits St. Louis In a Rain Shortened Game (2007)

June 27th 2007: In this rematch of the 2006 NLCS, the First place New York Mets (43-33) under Willie Randolph, faced off against Tony Larussa's reigning World Champion Cardinals. The Cards were 10.5 games out of first place at 34-41 at this point.

Tom Glavine (6-5) went up against Anthony Reyes (0-9) to an excited Shea Stadium crowd of 40,948. The Mets started off scoring right away, in the 1st inning Paul Loduca singled,& with two out, David Wright blasted a two run HR. It would be all the Mets needed in the 2-0 win.

Tom Glavine, gave up a 2nd inning single to Scott Rolen which would be the only hit he would allow. The rains came down & shortened the game after six innings. It was an official game as the Mets won it 2-0. In six innings, Glavine allowed no runs, on one hit, three strike outs & two walks for his 7th win of the year (4.12 ERA).

It was the 30th one hitter in Mets history. The latest one since the September 3rd, 2006 combined one hitter by; Orlando Hernandez, Roberto Hernandez, Darren Oliver & Guillermo Mota. He finished the year at 13-8 with a 4.45 ERA.

Mar 18, 2019

50th Anniversary of the 1969 Mets: Gil Hodges Cools Down Jerry Grote's Temper

50th Anniversary of the 1969 World Champion "Amazing Mets"

Manager Gil Hodges led the Mets to an improbable 1969 World Series Championship. He was a stern disciplinarian who took no garbage, but also respected the players & let them prove themselves. His leadership is the players on that team said made them play to the best & above their abilities. In this example, Hodges spoke to a fiery tempered Jerry Grote & helped bring him down a notch.

Jerry Grote came from the Houston Colt 45's (later to be the Astros) for pitcher Tom Parsons in October 1965. Parsons was 2-12 with a 4.58 ERA in two seasons with the Mets (39 games). He never played a game for Houston at the major league level.

Grote noted for his defense, batted just .181 in Houston in 1964 with 3 HRs 24 RBIs. This was one of the Mets brilliant trades early on in their history. Grote would get to two World Series with the Mets, play on the team for 12 years, mostly as the main catcher in every season. 

He was voted onto the 1968 All Star team by the players ahead of Johnny Bench. Bench once said of Grote, if he were the catcher on my team I'd be playing third base. Grote became known as one of the best backstops in league defensively during his era.

At first Grote had a big temper problem. He would argue with umpires, batters, even his own pitchers. He would sometimes throw the ball back to the mound harder than the pitcher threw it to him. The first time he did it to Tom Seaver, Seaver called him to the mound & told him to never do it again.

Grote was tossed from games for arguing with umpires & making it bad for his pitchers by doing so. No way he was getting any close pitches his way. Mets Manager once said of Grote "if he ever learns to control his temper, he could be the best catcher in baseball".

Once during a1968 intra squad game in Spring Training, Grote even managed to argue with the umpire. Manager Gil Hodges called him into his office. Hodges told Grote he was not doing what he is capable of doing to help the pitcher.

Quotes- Gil Hodges: "There's a time to argue, if you think he's blown a call, tell him. Then you get over it. You have to be more concerned with the course of the game. You have to think about situations. There's more to catching than putting down one finger & here comes the fastball. You cant get all riled up."

Hodges warned Grote about throwing the ball back to his pitchers hard, when he was shook off on signs, stop it. At the plate, Hodges had Grote cut down on his swing & go the opposite field more often.

Grote also had the advantage of getting tips from Yogi Berra who was a coach with the Mets & later became his manager.

No doubt Hodges influence got Grote to calm down & be good at his position for another decade. Knowing how important pitching is, Grote may have been the first person in 1969 to call the Mets Miracle. When he saw the staff he was catching, he said " we can win it all". A bold statement in Spring of 1969.

Mar 13, 2019

Mid Sixties Mets Mets Outfielder: Al Luplow (1966-1967)

Alvin David Luplow was born on March 13, 1939 in Saginaw, Michigan. Luplow attended Michigan State University, where he played varsity football, as well as baseball for the Spartans. The five foot eleven Luplow, earned a reputation as a hard nose aggressive style player, making several minor league All Star teams. 

He was a right hand hitting, left hand throwing outfielder, originally signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1959. He batted .300 in the New York Penn. League, making it through the ranks of the minors the next year. In 1961 he batted .302 at AAA Salt Lake City, getting a promotion to the big leagues by the end of the season. 

 He spent five seasons with the Indians, mostly as a reserve outfielder. In 1962 he played in 97 games, batting .277 with 14 HRs 15 doubles & 45 RBIs (362 at bats). The next year he was a regular in the fifth place Indians outfield, next to Vic Davillio & Tito Francona. He played in 100 games, but his average fell off to .234 with just seven HRs, six doubles & 27 RBIs. 

 That year he made a spectacular game saving catch stealing a HR away from future Hall of Fame manager, Dick Williams. It happened at Fenway Park, in front of only 6000 fans on a weekday afternoon. Although it has been written about throughout baseball history, only those who were there on that day, actually saw the catch be made. No recorded video of the play exists. 

Luplow chased down Williams deep fly ball, he leaped in the air & caught the ball over the fence. He flipped over the right center field wall & landed in the Red Sox bullpen. He jumped up waving his glove to show he made the fantastic catch and let everyone know he was alright. He posted the best fielding % of any outfielder in the AL that season at .994%. 

He saw little action over the next two seasons, batting a dismal .111 in 19 games in 1964. Then in 1965, the Indians acquired New York born, Italian American All Star; Rocky Colavito and Luplow would see even less playing time. 

The fact he hit just .133 in 53 games, didn't help his cause. At the end of November 1965, his contract was purchased by the New York Mets. Al Luplow certainly is not be the most famous #18 to wear a Mets uniform, like Daryl Strawberry, but he was on board for the 1966 season. 

Luplow debuted as a Mets player in the second game of the 1966 season, as a defensive replacement in the Mets 3-1 win over the Atlanta Braves. Luplow eventually made his way as one of the teams main outfielders by June. Al got himself into 111 games for the ’66 Mets, playing all three outfield positions & making pinch hit appearances. 

On June 13th he drew three walks in the second game of a double header, then went on a five game hit streak. On June 21st, he helped New York to a 2-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals with a ground out RBI, scoring Chuch Hiller for the first run of the game. 

On July 1st he hit a HR off Pittsburghs Steve Blass, helping the Mets to a 4-3 win over the Pirates. Two days later he drove in the first run of the Mets 9-8 win over the same Pirates, as the Mets took a rare series victory from the Bucs. Luplow's big day came on the 4th of July 1966, in Philadelphia where he hit a two run HR off Ray Culp & the doubled home two more runs in the Mets 8-1 victory over the Phillies.

 On July 20th in San Francisco, Luplow hit a HR off Hall of Giants Famer Juan Marichal. In that same game, weak hitting short stop Roy McMillan hit his only HR of the year off Marichal as well. The game went to extra innings & was won by New York on a Ron Swoboda HR off Bill Henry in the top of the tenth inning. It was a big deal, because it was one of the few times that the Mets could beat the Giants, especially with Marichal on the mound. 

 In the first two weeks of August Luplow had two four game hit streaks with five multi hit games. On September 17th he hit two HRs in another game at San Francisco, although the Mets lost 7-4. On that last west coast road trip, he had six hits with three HRs & seven RBIs. On the 1966 season Luplow would bat .251 with seven HRs, nine doubles, 38 walks, a .331 on base % & 31 RBIs. 

In 1967 he began the year hitting safely in seven of nine games at the end of April, but he struggled after that. He was hitting just .205, with three HRs & nine RBIs, when the Mets sold his contract to the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 21st. Luplow hit only .184 the rest of the year playing in 55 games. In his seven year career he played in 481 games, batting .235 with 292 hits 33 HRs 34 doubles 125 RBIs & a .311 on base %. 

Retirement: After his baseball career, Al ran a tavern, worked as a real estate appraiser & coached baseball. He was generally known as an all around good guy & good tipper.

Passing: Al Luplow passed away in December 2017 at age 78.

Mar 11, 2019

Remembering Mets History (1988): Straw Hits Another Walk Off HR Off John Franco

Friday May 6th, 1988: Davey Johnson's New York Mets were already in first place, up by a game & a half with a 19-7 record.

They would go on to win the NL Eastern Division in 1988. Tonight they hosted a good Cincinnati Reds team, that would finish second & in just two years win another World Championship.

The Reds Manager Pete Rose had just recently been suspended for an ugly incident in Cincinnati, in a game against the New York Mets.

On April 30th, a week prior, Rose had made contact with umpire Dave Pallone, eventually shoving him. The Reds fans showered the field with debris & Pallone was kept off the field for his safety with only three umpires being used the rest of the game. Former Reds / Astros infielder, Tommy Helms was now the acting manager.

22,857 fans came to see Dwight Gooden take on Dennis Rasmussem at Shea Stadium.

Starting Lineups

In the home 1st, Tim Teufel drew a walk & Keith Hernandez singled sending Teufel to third. A Darryl Strawberry sac fly made it 1-0. In the 5th inning, Strawberry drove in his second run of the game, after Keith Hernandez singled & stole second he scored on Straw's base hit.

Dwight Gooden pitched well not allowing any runs until the 7th. He would scatter eleven hits on the day, strike out five & walk two pitching a full nine innings. Dave Collins & Chris Sabo's RBI singles tied it in the 7th. Gooden got out of a 9th inning jam, as he got Barry Larkin to ground out with runners on second & third.

Randy Meyers came on in the 10th inning, and served up a lead off HR to Chris Sabo. John Franco was on the mound to save it for the Reds. Franco the future Mets All Star reliever & Brooklyn native, would lead the NL in saves that year with 39. He would lead the NL in saves two more times in his career as a member of the Mets.

But on this day, "it was de' ja vu all over again" as former Mets manager Yogi Berra would say, as Darryl Strawberry came up & blasted a walk off HR off Franco just as he did two years ago. This time there were two outs & Keith Hernandez on first base.

In this game Strawberry drove in all four Strawberry would go on to lead the NL with 39 HRs that season, becoming the second Met to do so.

The 39 HRs tied a career high for him which he had done in 1987. In his career Straw would have just three walk off HRs in his Mets career.