Mets general manager Sandy Alderson claimed Friday night in Philadelphia that the team is not putting up the white flag in 2014 by releasing underperforming veteran outfielders Bobby Abreu and Chris Young and replacing them with Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Matt den Dekker. Alderson also announced that Wilmer Flores will be getting the bulk of playing time at shortstop for the rest of the season in place of Ruben Tejada, who has been in the organization’s doghouse for the last two years.
I can’t blame Alderson for wanting to take a good look at the three players who have logged a lot of time in the Mets’ minor league system. If they play well then he’ll have some homegrown inexpensive talent on the 2015 roster. If they can’t, they might as well be dropped from the 40-man roster once the season ends.
My take on both Kirk and Matt is that they are serviceable outfielders who will occasionally get a big hit as well as make some defensive gems but you aren’t going to get to the playoffs with them in your starting lineup. Flores can hit but his glove is a question mark.
The last Mets postgame concert takes place Saturday after the Cubs game. It’s a good one, with Philadelphia vocal group Boyz II Men, who had a lot of hits in the ’90s, performing.
No sports franchise reveres its history the way the Yankees do. Last Saturday afternoon, Paul O’Neill, who was a key reason why the Yankees won four World Series from 1996 to 2000 and the American League pennant in 2001, received a plaque that will be the latest addition to Monument Park in Yankee Stadium.
O’Neill was known for his intensity, such as slamming his helmet into the turf after a ground out and tossing his bat in disgust after a strikeout. I asked him if he had any regrets about his on-field antics. “In retrospect I wish that the television cameras didn’t catch some of my frustrations. That’s why I loved seeing the on-screen tribute today. They only showed the fans the good stuff!” he said with a smile.
I then asked if any Little League coaches ever wrote to him complaining that they didn’t want their kids to act like sore losers every time they made an out. “Some did write to me about that but others thought that my intensity was a positive for their players,” he said.
The best bargain in professional sports, the US Open qualifiers, gets underway Monday at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows Park. While you won’t see Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer or Serena Williams playing, there are always a few familiar names as well as talented up and comers competing to get into the Open. Admission is free.
Derek Jeter passed Honus Wagner for sixth place on the all-time Major League Baseball hits list when he legged out an infield single on Saturday. ESPN New York asked fans on its website, “Who was a better shortstop: Honus Wagner or Derek Jeter?” Call me a cynic but I don’t think that many of the potential voters saw Wagner play as he retired in 1917.
Last Thursday Mets radio play-by-play voice and Cardozo High School alum Howie Rose pointed out twice that the Mets had gotten their starting pitcher, Jacob de Grom, off the hook for a loss when they scored two runs to tie the game 3-3 against the Washington Nationals. It sounded as if Rose was telling fans that this was as good as it was going to get for the Mets that day. If that was the case, Rose was prescient as the Mets failed to score again and lost in 13 innings to the Nats, 5-3, as slumping one-time phenomenon Bryce Harper hit a two-run homer.
The Mets took a lot of ribbing for a promotion in which they gave out toy trucks to young fans that had the Phillies logo on them instead of their own. If it’s any consolation, the Phillies gave away trucks to their fans that had the Mets insignia on it. The office supplies company WB Mason sponsored both giveaways, and the fulfillment company that they hired was clearly was at fault. In fairness, the two teams are only 100 miles apart geographically, and are battling it out to see who can finish last in the National League East so perhaps the confusion was understandable.
Alderson is averse to spending his bosses’ money on high-priced talent. Perhaps it’s because the few times he has, the dice have frequently come up snake eyes. In 2012 he wasted $12 million on a two-year contract for relief pitcher Frank Francisco, who is now out of the big leagues. Last winter he signed outfielder Young, a career .233 hitter, to a $7.5 million, one-year, contract. I admitted in my column then that I was scratching my head wondering why he signed Young based on his stats without even taking into account his enormous contract.
To be fair, Chris did have some late-inning clutch hits, but not enough of them, as he was released last Friday night. Some of the press, as well as many fans on social media, were tastelessly celebrating his departure as if it were some perverse victory. Chris was a gentleman who was unfailingly polite with media. He was also well aware that his contract would make him an easy target for frustrated Mets fans. I am hoping he will get a chance to succeed with another team.
File this one under the banner of “so close, yet so far.” The government of the Caribbean island nation of Jamaica sponsored a golf tournament at Brooklyn’s Marine Park last week. One of the promotions was that a golfer could win a million dollars by hitting a hole in one on a 150-yard hole. Queens engineer Bob Buss came within 5 feet of the pin.
It’s no secret that Atlantic City has taken it on the chin in recent years as gaming revenues have declined because of competition from nearby casinos in the Philadelphia area as well as from our own Resorts World at Aqueduct. It now appears to be a certainty that two of the town’s oldest casinos, Showboat and Trump Plaza, will be closing before the end of 2014.
The good news for consumers is that Atlantic City has great deals that would have been unheard of just a few years ago.
It wasn’t that long ago that the Trump Taj Mahal, the other AC casino bearing the name of the mogul from Jamaica Estates, was the state of the art in the gaming world. The Taj is still a very well-maintained property, which, unlike a lot of its newer competitors, is luxurious without being ostentatious. You can get some inexpensive packages even now in its high season if you can avoid staying over Friday and Saturday nights before Labor Day.
Another benefit of staying in Atlantic City before Labor Day is that you can take in some very enjoyable house shows whose ticket prices are a fraction of what you pay to see headline entertainers.
Taj Mahal and Tropicana have competing magic shows. Rob Lake, one of the stars of the CW Network’s Friday night summer series “Masters of Illusion,” has a nightly show at the Taj, while the prestidigitator team of Kevin & Caruso perform at the Tropicana. Lake is the better technical magician but Kevin & Caruso put on a more entertaining show with their high-energy antics and their utilization of terrific Vegas-style showgirls.
Speaking of showgirls, don’t miss The Burlesque Show that plays every Thursday night at the Borgata, which brilliantly updates the kind of entertainment that Gypsy Rose Lee made famous. While the seductive dancers are fun to watch, it’s a pair of ribald comics, ventriloquist John Pizzi and standup veteran Jeff Pirrami, who will make you very happy that you spent your time at this vaudeville renaissance.
One of the great myths about Atlantic City is that you should only eat at a casino hotel. While there is an endless selection of fine casino-located restaurants such as Robert’s Steakhouse at the Taj Mahal, which also has a sizable late night snack and wine menu in its lounge, you are highly recommended to go one block west of the famous AC boardwalk to Pacific Avenue, near the Tropicana, and try the Italian restaurant Girasole. Their margherita pizza is worth a stop alone, but you should also sample their salmon or frutti di mare pasta dish. Girasole is a family-run business that has been in Atlantic City since 1991.