2003-08-08 / Columnists

• Mets catcher Mike Piazza denies that he’s unhappy with the team’s current direction and that he’s told confidants he wishes to be traded, as was reported in a recent Bergen (N.J.) Rec­ord exclusive, but really, is it so far-fetch­ed a story to believe?

• Mets catcher Mike Piazza denies that he’s unhappy with the team’s current direction and that he’s told confidants he wishes to be traded, as was reported in a recent Bergen (N.J.) Rec­ord exclusi

• Mets catcher Mike Piazza denies that he’s unhappy with the team’s current direction and that he’s told confidants he wishes to be traded, as was reported in a recent Bergen (N.J.) Rec­ord exclusive, but really, is it so far-fetch­ed a story to believe?


The Mets badly botched Piazza’s up­coming move to first base, a very sensitive issue to the 10-time All-Star, when Art "Paducah" Howe blabbed the fact to the MSG Network that the team had decided to ask Piazza to start working out in the infield. Of course, Howe forgot to first inform Piazza, leaving him in an awkward spot with the rabid New York media corps.

We may question Piazza’s motivation for continuing to catch, when it’s clear that his understudies Jason "Bono" Phillips and Vance Wilson (hitting slump and all) have outperformed him during their extended auditions, but the future Hall-of-Famer deserves better than this.

Facts are facts, and the sad truth is that the re-tooling Mets are not going to compete within the next one to two years. Sorry, but not with the Atlanta Braves still blowing everybody out of the water in the NL East and a competitive follow-up of the Phillies, Expos and Marlins rounding out the division.

The time will come, very soon, that the team should take a serious look at dealing Piazza, just as they’ve traded away veterans Roberto Alomar, Armando Benitez and Jeromy Burn­itz this year. Piazza is still a marquee star – or at least he will be, once his rehab from the severely strain­ed groin is complete – and could net the Mets the chips they’ll need to be a contender by 2005 or 2006.

• In fact, it’s been one slip-up after another with the Mets, and we’re not just talking about the sloppy play on the field. This week, the Daily News reported that the Mets broke off contract negotiations with their number one draft pick, outfielder Lastings Milledge, because it’d surfaced that Milledge had been accused of inappropriate conduct with girls as young as 12 while he was a student at his Florida high school.

The Mets, of course, denied that they’d had any knowledge of the allegations before they wasted their top pick on Milledge, which is either an outright lie or a crying shame. This rep­ort­er was informed of Milledge’s shady past in casual conversation on draft day right in the Mets’ clubhouse, so for the team not to have gotten wind of it is simply absurd.

• It was tough not to wince at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, when Alex Rod­riguez spoke with dripping affection for the old-school Mets. The $252 million Texas Rangers shortstop recalling lovingly how Jesse Orosco’s strikeout of Marty Barrett to win the 1986 World Series prompted a teenaged A-Rod to jump off his bed, bang his head on the ceiling of his Miami apartment and drop to his knees in jubilation.

"I’m telling you, the Mets are my fav­orite team in the National League," Rod­riguez said. "Growing up, I watch­ed every game. And I guarantee you, I know more about the Mets from 1985 through 1991 [than anyone]. I know every game. I just loved watching them."

If only ex-GM Steve Phillips hadn’t conjured up all of that "24 and one" garbage, had just swallowed his pride and submitted a bid to A-Rod’s agent, the shark-like Scott Boras. Rodrig­uez may have wasted the summers of his teen years tuned to Tim McCarv­er’s analysis on WWOR-9, but these days, volunteering to watch every Mets game just seems like cruel and unusual punishment.

• The Yankees’ trade for third baseman Aaron Boone, and the subsequent dumping of Robin Ventura on the L.A. Dodgers for prospects, may have looked, smelled and tasted to most of us like a knee-jerk upgrade for the playoffs.

Not to Bombers manager Joe Torre, who thinks that the former Cincinnati Reds All-Star could have a future in pinstripes. "He seems comfortable in his own skin; he’s genuinely happy to be here," Torre said this week. "There could very well be a future for him here, being that he’s a young man (31) who can play very well."

Boone already has one good foot in the door with Torre due to his rich base­ball lineage – Aaron’s grandfather, Ray, played 13 years in the bigs, and his father Bob was a 19-year veteran with the Phillies, Angels and Royals. Despite the fact that Ray was canned by the Reds as their manager last week, he’s raised a couple of boys (the Mar­iners’ Bret being the other) who play the game right.

"When you have people in your family who have played the game," Torre said, "I think there’s a respect for the game that comes through. I really do."

• Sounds like Christmas may come early for Mets pitcher and notable New Jersey-ite Al Leiter, with rocker Bruce Springsteen leaking word that he is looking into playing a late September concert at Shea Stadium.

The Boss, who has booked baseball venues in Pittsburgh, Detroit and San Francisco among others on his current tour, had been interested in performing at Yankee Stadium, but the other Boss – Yanks principal owner George Steinbrenner – nixed that because he didn’t want Springsteen and his E Street Band ripping up the outfield turf before the Bombers head to the postseason. The Mets, of course, have no such concerns.

• Props to Kansas City Royals utilityman Desi Relaford, possibly the coolest player we know, on starting his own hip-hop and rap record label. Relaford, who spent the 2001 season here with the Mets, has ponied up the cash to start 6 Hole Records, named after his favorite position on the field – shortstop. You can find Desi on the Web at 6hole.com.

Bryan Hoch be contacted at bryanhoch@yahoo.com.


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