Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Anatomy of a Choke - 2007 New York Mets!

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All the paperwork is signed, sealed and delivered. The official poster boys of self strangulation, now officially known as the 2007 New York Mets, are DEAD. A team full of baseball players so accomplished and talented, that many sports prognosticators saw a 2007 World Series Championship flag being waved in their honor. The Mets "loaded up" for this season. They acquired every high priced mercenary they could get their checkbook on, in anticipation of this season being "The Year of the Met". The payroll for this team laden with overpriced, underachieving, overrated baseball players, began 2007 at $115.2 million. This was the third highest payroll in major league baseball, trailing only the cross town rival Yankees, and the Yankees' American League East rivals, the Boston Red Sox. For the record, both the Yankees and Sox will be participating in the playoffs that start later this week.

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Baseball has NO salary cap. This gives teams in the largest cities and media markets a tremendous advantage over the smaller market teams. This being the case primarily because of much greater revenue generated from broadcast rights paid out by local television and radio outlets, pricey advertising revenues, and the highly lucrative merchandising of their team memorabilia reaching a far greater audience. Smaller market teams must be significantly more prudent and judicious in how they spend their money. Much more emphasis must be placed on developing young talent from their minor league affiliates, because they simply cannot afford to go out and sign high priced free agents to multi-year $15 - $25 million yearly contracts. A classic example of this is New York Yankee third basemen and playoff choke savant, Alex Rodriguez, (ARod) who makes the same annual salary as the entire 25 man Tampa Bay Devil Ray roster combined. Inflated, bloated salaries and high payrolls alone don't insure baseball success, the Mets certainly proved that, but it's an undeniable advantage not seen in any of the other major sports leagues operating in the United States.

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That's another debate for another time. Let's primarily focus on the art of the choke. The 2007 baseball season was 90% over on September 12th. The Mets held a seemingly insurmountable lead of seven games over another renowned cabal of underachieving choke artists, the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies throughout baseball history have perhaps symbolized incompetence, futility and failure more than any franchise in all of team sports. The Phillies in fact became the first and still only franchise in US team sports history to have lost more than 10,000 games. They ignominiously lost their 10,000th game on July 15thth of this year to the St Louis Cardinals in classic Phillie style, by the score of 10 - 2. Most baseball fans regard the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox as the faces of hapless losers. The Phillies can make a solid argument they're more deserving. Ironically, the Cubs, Red Sox and Phillies all won their respective divisions this year, and as a result, will be in the 2007 playoffs. Baseball began playing the World Series in 1903. The Cubs won the "Series" in 1907 and 1908. The Red Sox won in 1903, 1912, 1915, 1916, 1918 and of course in 2004. The Phillies won their one and only series in 1980. Prior to this year, the 1964 Phillies were the forerunner of today's New York Mets. The Phillies held a 6.5 game lead on September 20th. They celebrated by losing their next 10 games, losing their lead and the pennant. 43 years the later, it would appear the Mets have supplanted the Phillies as the greatest chokers in MLB history.

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No team holding a seven game lead with only 17 games to play ever failed to win their division. The Mets chose to change that by firmly grasping their collective throats and squeezing. They would go on a tear and proceed to lose 12 of those last 17 games. Were they looking too closely in their rear-view mirrors at the object that really was much closer than it appeared, in the form of the Phillies? As the Mets fiddled and saw their season burn, the Phillies would win 13 of their final 17 games and seize the National League East. In a most typical fashion for this most untypical year, the Mets and Phillies were dead even entering Sunday's final game. Three hours later the Phillies were alive and dousing themselves with cheap champagne. The Mets were just dead. Not only did they die, but they managed to do it in a sickeningly pathetic manner. They resembled the over-hyped prize fighter who upon hearing the opening bell for Round One, charged across the ring and ran into a cocked fist and crumpled to the canvas before the crowd even had a chance to take their seats.

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The Mets stood by in a spectacularly, futile fashion as they watched the team with the second worst record in the National League, a payroll 25% of what the Met payroll was, score SEVEN runs in the first inning of game 162, off future Hall of Fame pitcher, Tom Glavine. If you arrived at the game 15 minutes late, had to go to the bathroom, or was waiting in line for a $6 hot dog, you missed the final act of what would be the final crescendo of the 2007 New York Mets. It seemed to end before it even started. There was a big, fat, giant 7 on the scoreboard. As you looked on in disbelief, 100 miles to the south, the Phillies were rolling over the Washington Nationals 6 - 1. The Phillies were wondering who they would go up against in their playoff opener. The Mets were only wondering what happened to their season. NO playoffs, NO division title, NO National League pennant, NO "subway series" against their hated rival Yankees, NO nothing.

There actually will be ONE something and that's already started. We're all familiar with the cliche about the rats being the first to desert a sinking ship. That same survival instinct now is the norm in humans as well. In fact, the finger pointing has already begun. The General Manager acquired a bad mix of aging players, at least that was the case for 12 of the final 17 games. The Manager is no good, the pitching coach is no good, too many old players, too many young players, too much discipline, too much freedom, yada yada yada. Let's just call it what it is, the Mets CHOKED! They won 57% of their first 145 games but only 29% of the final 17. Athletes hate the term CHOKERS. Sure they do. They hate it for the very same reason overweight guys hate the term fat boy and George W. Bush hates the term mental pygmy. Not to worry however, all you Heimlich "Maneuverees" have agents busy at work right now, angling how to get you big raises for your next contracts. So relax and enjoy the playoffs in the comfort of your multi-million dollar estates. While you're doing that, first face it, and then embrace it Mets, you choked, so deal with it. Just sit back and look at the bright side, you're still vastly overpaid, wealthy athletes that will live to choke another day........

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