"Same Old Nickel & Dime Mets"

By: Lloyd Carroll

Photos by: Gemini Keez

     It was hard not to chuckle when the story about the Mets’ secret dinner with Robinson Cano and his management team broke. It’s obvious that the Mets cannot afford Cano and I had doubts that they could even afford to take him out to a decent restaurant. The scuttlebutt is that CAA, led by front man Jay-Z, bought the Mets dinner. Score one for Jeff Wilpon.

       The Mets showed once again their penny-pinching ways when they decided not to match the Rockies $2.5 million offer to retain free agent pitcher LaTroy Hawkins. This had to have been extremely demoralizing news for Mets fans considering the fine job that he did last year. It’s not as if the Mets’ bullpen is full of potential setup men and closers either. One former Mets executive that I spoke with told me that he couldn’t believe that they wouldn’t pony up what is chump change by MLB standards to keep a guy who not only performed well but was a mentor in the clubhouse to young players; was one of the rare leaders on a Mets team bereft of leadership; and finally, a go-to guy for sportswriters.

      Our Flushing heroes did splurge on free agent outfielder Chris Young who had a measly .200 with a pedestrian 12 home runs last year by signing him to a one-year, $7.25 million contract. Mets general manager Sandy Alderson is clearly hoping that Young will follow in the footsteps of Marlon Byrd by having a great year and then moving him to a playoff contender before the season is over. I don’t think that there was a single fan clamoring for the Mets to sign this guy.

      I was saddened to learn of the passing of Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Michael Weiner who succumbed to brain cancer at the age of 51. I frequently ran into Michael on the #7 train on the way to Citi Field where he would meet with both Mets players and those on the visiting team. It was indicative of the down-to-earth man that he was that he eschewed a limo in favor of using the subway. He also valued the opinions of those of us from smaller outlets as much as he did those who were from the big media outlets.

    One of Weiner’s last acts was helping arguably the most famous member of his rank-and-file, Alex Rodriguez, help prepare his defense against a 211-game suspension by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig. Too many in the media, particularly the Daily News, have treated A-Rod as if he were a member of Al-Qaeda. They had a field day with him when he walked out on a hearing as soon as he learned from an arbitrator that his chief accuser, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, will not have to testify and hence avoid cross-examination from Rodriguez’s legal team. The funny thing is that A-Rod has a legitimate beef.

     Former Braves outfielder and Falcons defensive back Brian Jordan was one of the many luminaries at the annual Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association NYC dinner that raises funds for youth baseball clinics. Having played two professional sports he certainly has a unique vantage point to comment on the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin hazing process. “I was in a lot of clubhouses and locker rooms and I never saw or heard anything like that. If Incognito can prove that he was encouraged “to toughen up” Martin by Miami Dolphins management expect lawsuits to fly,” said Jordan.

     Knicks forward Metta World Peace still better known to most of us as Long Island City native Ron Artest, was in chatty mood before the Pacers-Knicks game at the Garden two weeks ago. Peace has been battling knee problems and at this point in his career is taking more time to recover from the various aches and pains that come along with life in the NBA than he used to. “I always rushed back too soon after getting hurt when I was younger. It’s hard to be smart but I have to try now that I am older,” he said to the media assembled in the Knicks locker room.

    Metta also said that he enjoyed his staged subway ride on the F train recently as he traveled from his childhood home in Queensbridge to Madison Square Garden. “I remember when the 21st Street opened. I was 13 years old. By the way do the G and R trains still run in Queens?” he asked.

    The Knicks’ slow start enraged Madison Square Garden Entertainment/Cablevision CEO James Dolan to the point where in the ultimate form of anger misplacement he benched the Knicks City Dancers for a game. Former Knicks general manager Donnie Walsh, who came from the Indiana Pacers and is now back with them after countless run-ins with Dolan, told me that he had heard about the incident. “I have no comment!” he said with a hearty laugh as he shook his head in disbelief.

    Sapphire, the gentlemen’s club on the Upper East Side located just across the Ed Koch (Queensboro) Bridge, had some fun with the predicament of the Knicks City Dancers by sending out an email showing one of their lovely dancers wearing a skimpy KCD-like outfit and saying “Dolan can’t fire our girls!”

      It was a nice touch on the part of the MSG Network to have Walt “Clyde” Frazier return to his native Atlanta and revisit his childhood home and friends for its “Beginnings” series.

      What is often forgotten is that Clyde was the first NBA player to score an athletic shoe endorsement deal. “A new company, Puma, paid me $5,000 to wear their suede sneakers and I felt that I was on top of the world,” Frazier told me at his Manhattan restaurant, Clyde Frazier’s Wine And Dine. Puma is spending a lot of money reviving its Classic Suede line and is hoping that it can have the same luck that Converse had with relaunching its Chuck Taylor All-Star shoes. Puma would be smart to use Frazier as a spokesman the way that Skechers is using NFL legendary QB Joe Montana to promote its Relaxed Fit shoes as a way of appealing to an older demographic.

     The Squared Circle (Gotham Books) written by Daniel Shoemaker is the most erudite book that I have ever read on one of my favorite passions, the world of professional wrestling. He goes into great detail about how wrestling played up ethnic stereotypes to attract and enrage fans right up through the late 1980s yet it was an endeavor that attracted a lot of minority athletes such as Bobo Brazil (real name Houston Harris), Ernie Ladd, and Pedro Morales.

    While Shoemaker spends a lot of pages discussing WWE superstars Hulk Hogan, the late Randy Savage, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, he does not ignore some of the lesser grapplers as jobber SD Jones whose job was to lose (and he did that well) and one of my all-time favorites, “Ravishing” Rick Rude,” who he describes as “a preening narcissist in the ring.”

       It seems as if you can’t be a key player for the St. John’s Red Storm unless head coach Steve Lavin has suspended you for at least one game for mysteriously violating team rules. Last year guard D’Angelo Harrison missed the last few games of the regular and St. John’s futile appearance in the post-season N.I.T. Earlier this season center Chris Obepka was suspended fora pair of exhibition games for unsaid infractions.

     This past Friday night it was hyped rookie guard Rysheed Jordan’s turn to sit out a game for unspecified bad deeds. Jordan, a big-time Philadelphia highschool star, was supposed to be the best recruit to come to St. John’s since Steve Lavin became their head coach four years ago. Lavin and the St. John’s Sports Information Department decided before this season got underway that the media would not be able to interview him until January 2014 at the earliest. Obviously putting Rysheed in a cocoon has not been the foolproof plan that the St. John’s coaching staff thought it would be.

     All of which makes one wonder about the character of the players that Steve Lavin is recruiting. St. John’s was always a school that took as much pride in the academic success of their players as they did in the athletic accomplishments. I began to notice a change when Lavin recruited Forest Hills High School star Mo Harkless who bolted the team after one year to seek NBA glory (Harkless is now a member of the Orlando Magic). I am convinced that Lavin knew that Harkless would bolt after just one year but was willing to rent his services. Certainly other universities’ basketball teams  have done the same thing in pursuit of NCAA glory but I always thought that St. John’s would find that kind of thing unseemly.    

     I am not naive. I realize that a college’s alumni get more generous when the teams of their alma mater are winning championships or are at least viable contenders. Aside from the economics, there is a matter of pride when your old school is winning. Of course being a Columbia alum, this is an alien feeling since the toothless Lions rarely win in either basketball or football. On the other hand I can’t think of  a single Columbia player in any sport over the last 50 years who was ever suspended for breaking the kind of school rules something that seems to be a weekly occurrence for the Red Storm.

     Nearly every television network did a terrific job commemorating that fateful November day in Dallas fifty years ago. The NFL Network surprisingly confronted the NFL’s  shameful past when it played its full schedule of games the Sunday following the JFK assassination even though CBS refused to televise them. The late commissioner Pete Rozelle would later call it his biggest regret.

      One of the biggest challenges of watching sports on television is trying to snack without putting on the pounds or ingesting ingredients that will raise both your cholesterol and blood pressure. Of course finding healthy snacks that taste good has been the equivalent of the search for the holy grail. Dole has just introduced a Chopped line of tasty pre-made salads in a bag that come in five varieties:  Chipotle & Cheddar, Asian Blend, Bacon & Bleu, Summer Garden and BBQ Ranch. If you want to create low-cal mini-sandwiches you can put the salads on flat breads or a tastier option, Nasoya Asian Wraps.

     If you do need your sweets fix, Dove has introduced bags of bite-size premium chocolates called Silky Smooth Promises. Clearly that is not a brand name that will entice guys to easily try it. Nonetheless the chocolates are rich in cocoa flavanols which are very beneficial to the body’s circulation system.

       Aldi, the low-cost grocery chain that got its start in Germany a century ago, has slowly expanded into the United States and is now planning to expand all over the Northeast. Two years ago they opened their first NYC store at Rego Park’s Rego Center. What I find most impressive about Aldi is that their private label house brands such as Friendly Farms, Clancy’s and Millville are as good, not better, than national brands but at a fraction of the price. Aldi’s two main drawbacks are that it doesn’t accept credit cards (debit cards are okay) and that they charge for bags.

      If you are looking for a good Chanukah gift for a sports fan here are a couple of suggestions. “American Jews & America’s Game” (University of Nebraska Press) by Larry Ruttman looks at both notable players as Sandy Koufax, Hank Greenberg, and Al Rosen and owners as Fred Wilpon, Bud Selig, Jerry Reinsdorf and Stuart Sternberg. “Jewish Jocks” (Twelve Publishing) is a compendium of essays by a variety of authors on athletes as Far Rockaway basketball legend Nancy Lieberman, Olympic multiple gold medal winning swimmer Mark Spitz, and former Mets outfielders Art Shamsky and Shawn Green.

     You don’t have to be Jewish to celebrate Chanukah at the fifth annual Latke Festival at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Pavilion on Monday, December 2. Chefs from various top local restaurants will be giving samples of Jewish-themed food to patrons. The revenue raised from the admission fees will be donated to the Sylvia Center, a non-profit organization that teaches children to prepare healthy meals. For more information log onto www.greatperformances.com

     The lighting of the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center has long been the most famous kickoff to the holiday season after the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Circle Line and World Yacht is trying to create a new event: an annual lighting of ships that is followed by a boat parade on the Hudson. The festivities get underway on Monday, December 9 at 5 PM. There is no admission fee and complimentary hot chocolate will be dispensed.