Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Hard Hits: Championship Baseball Like It Oughta Be

"Part of it is cost of living, part of it is how we see ourselves in the marketplace. This team is going to be a fun and, we think, a championship-caliber team."- Mets Executive VP of Business Operations Dave Howard on why the Amazins have raised ticket prices an estimated seven percent according to Newsday.

Would Mr. Howard like to put some money on that final statement? Earlier this week, I received an angry email from a Mets season ticketholder who wasn't too pleased as to why the ball club hiked tickets so much (10 dollar increase). This despite not spending one more dime on payroll compared to last year they claimed. And here's the kicker. According to them, this top notch organization didn't have the guts to tell them how much they raised costs. Brilliant. Isn't it?

I can't blame them for being upset. If my team hadn't made the postseason the past five seasons and suddenly had the nerve to pull that, I'd feel the same way. Sadly, it's common in sports that when a team starts acquiring big name players; no matter what happened the previous season, loyal fans like Scott Busy are going to pay through the roof. It's just how it is today, which doesn't make it right.

But as long as the Mets are a "championship-caliber team," it will be alright. The problem is that you can have the best looking roster on paper and it might not translate on the field. The Yankees are definitive proof of this the past five Octobers. At least they got that far.

On paper, Mets GM Omar Minaya has put together a solid lineup which should do some damage next season in the NL East. Acquiring Carlos Delgado to play first along with Paul Lo Duca to catch should make the Amazins formidable. Combine that with rising stars Jose Reyes and David Wright and established stars Carlos Beltran and Cliff Floyd and New York has some significant lumber to send to the plate. Toss in flamethrowing southpaw Billy Wagner out of the bullpen to close games and this team looks like it's in position to finally overtake the Braves.

The problem with this sort of thought process is that no championship is ever won on paper. They still have to play 162 games and win enough to make the postseason. Certainly no guarantee. What if Pedro Martinez suddenly gets old in year two of his four-year contract? What if Tom Glavine, Kris Benson, Jae Seo, Steve Trachsel and Victor Zambrano can't get enough batters out? What if Minaya doesn't upgrade his bullpen so they can get the ball to Wagner with a lead? And the last time I checked, Kaz Matsui was still the Mets second baseman. Surely, they're not going into next year with him. Right? Still have to find a taker and a replacement.

But no worry. With how Minaya has parted with prospects this offseason, he'll probably give away the last ones worth a dime to get suddenly disenchanted Orioles star Miguel Tejada. Think it can't happen? The Mets are a now team. As long as Pedro can still baffle hitters, the window to win is open.

One time a few years ago under Steve Phillips, the Mets stole the back pages by acquiring Mo Vaughn and Roberto Alomar. That team was supposed to be an instant success, only it never happened. Before even stepping foot on the field Vaughn had a sandwich named after him and ate his way onto the DL never to be heard from again. Alomar suddenly forgot how to play second and also couldn't hit a lick. Amazing what can happen under the bright lights in the city that never sleeps. Just ask A-rod why he couldn't come through when the team in the Bronx needed him most. Ditto Big Unit.

Building a winner requires many things. You can have all the talent in the world and it still might not work out. I've said it before. Without the right mix in the clubhouse, you're not going to be successful. It doesn't mean all 25 players need to get along. But some of those big names must check their egos at the door for the good of the team. If everyone contributes and takes pride in their roles, then the sky is the limit.

Championship baseball like it oughta be.

Hitting Back:

-Incidentally, Miguel Tejada sounds a lot like Alex Rodriguez after a couple of years of losing in Texas. Nobody forced him to sign with Baltimore just like nobody told A-rod to take the money and run to Arlington. Guess these two star shortstops have even more in common than first thought. When the going gets tough, they whine their way out. Doesn't quite have the same ring to it that Billy Ocean's original hit had.

-Who told Joe Torre that recruiting Nomar Garciaparra was a good idea? Or is this just a Boss thing with him being an ex-Red Sock? When are the Yanks going to try to get Dave Roberts?

-Advice to Anna Benson: Nobody cares about your political views. They just won't tell it to your face.

-Someone can tell Larry Brown that it's okay to start earning his 10 million dollar paycheck with these Knicks.

-On the topic, how does David Lee not get off the bench?

-If the Nets keep this up at home, pretty soon, they'll become the first team in the NBA to have no fans at a game. Not that you could tell the difference anyway.

-Will the real Vince Carter please report for duty?

-Even when the Jets win, it's not for the best. There's always next year.

-Tiki Barber is the Edgerrin James of the NFC. Week in and week out, Barber is the best Giant on offense. A model of consistency. Whether it's running for 100 yards, taking a screenpass to the house or pass protecting for Eli Manning, the Giants' best offensive weapon gets the job done. One of these days, he'll finally be recognized for how special a player he really is.

-Does anyone think the Colts aren't going to obliterate the '72 Dolphins perfect season?

-I'm still waiting for Texas to show up at Continental Airlines Arena and challenge Duke. Better hope the football team doesn't lay an egg against USC.

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