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LET ME GET THIS STRAIGHT Ross MacCallum

In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on October 31, 2011 at 5:55 pm

The Redskins picked an appropriate weekend to turn in their most frightening performance of the season (so far). A Halloween eve loss to the Buffalo Bills on a neutral field in Canada where the Bills had never won before.

23-0 Buffalo!!!  And, it could have been worse. Had it not been for a London Fletcher INT in the endzone, some clutch punting by Sav Rocca, and botched field goal attempt by Rian Lindell it would have been an even bigger blowout.

And, it was a historic defeat, too.  Mike Shanahan’s first ever shutout loss in 267 games as a head coach. The Skins have now dropped three straight to sit at 3 – 4 in the NFC East.  They’re tied with the Eagles and Dallas behind the 5-2 Giants, but clearly not a team on par with anyone in their division.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

At this juncture of his Redskins career, Mike Shanahan is 9 -14.  Both Jim Zorn and Steve Spurrier were 10 -13 through 23 games in DC, and both were riding 3 game losing streaks just like Shanny.  And, even more frightening is the fact that Zorn and Spurrier would only win two more games from this point;  ending their Redskins coaching careers at 12 and 20.  And, don’t think that history can’t repeat itself.  It’s not impossible for Shanahan to match that level of futility before the 2011 season ends. In fact, it’s frighteningly easy.

A quick glance at the remaining 9 games shows a schedule full of potential and virtually guaranteed losses.  I can’t picture John Beck (or Rex Grossman, for that matter) beating the Eagles, Patriots, Jets, Giants, or even the Niners next Sunday.  They can probably beat the winless Dolphins on November 13th at Miami, but the Skins have a recent track record of giving the hapless hope (please see:  2010 losses to the Rams, Vikings, and Lions).  Shanahan could also have a decent shot against Dallas at FedEx Field in 3 weeks depending on which Tony Romo shows up.  And, maybe they can beat the Vikings at home in December, but Christian Ponder is still an unknown quantity as an NFL quarterback,  and the Skins did lose at home last November to a Brett Favre-led Vikings team that was in turmoil having literally just fired Brad Childress. Thanksgiving weekend at Seattle is a toss-up which could simply hinge on jet lag.

Soooooooo… I wouldn’t bank on more than 4 wins the rest of the way and that’s gonna require some serious improvement in both the passing and running games just to eeeeekkk-out a 7-9 season.  Hardly an improvement over 2010.

The problem is NOT that the Skins lost to Buffalo.  It’s that they were never even in the game.  The play-by-play recap is a mindnumbing series of Beck-Incomplete followed by Beck-Sacked, with a Torain run for little or no gain sprinkled in for good measure.

It’s not all the fault of John Beck either.  Nine sacks indicate that he was left a sitting duck by his offensive line.  A line that wasn’t much help for a running game that saw Ryan Torain carry 8 times for an anemic 14 yards.  An injured Tim Hightower could have delivered those same results.

The fault here lies with Shanahan who tried to sell us on the idea that John Beck and Rex Grossman are frontline NFL QB’s.  Even Shanahan himself is no longer sold on Rex, so the eggs are in Beck’s basket now.  Shanahan has called Beck a “streaky passer” and right now it’s all a bad streak.  There was no deep passing game to speak of against the Bills.  Just a series of overthrown balls into tight single- or double-coverage.  Sure, the one interception on the long pass intended for Donte’ Stallworth was a case of bad luck, but the Bills had that play well covered and likely would have broken it up anyway.  Even the shorter passing game evolved into the Beck to Davis show, and Buffalo figured that early enough to keep a lid on things and even rack-up an INT to open the fourth quarter.  (And, adding salt to the wound, Fred Davis sprained his ankle and could miss some action.)

Speaking of the fourth quarter, Fox Sports’ analyst Troy Aikman made an excellent point on the Skins lack of urgency.  Down 20 points and rapidly running out of time, they eschewed the no-huddle until the final 3:19 when the odds of coming up with 3 TD’s and a pair of two-point conversions was improbable, at best.  Shanahan told the assembled news media at his Monday availability at Redskins Park, “I thought we ran it [the 2-minute offense] almost the whole second half if you take a look at our play calls.”  Frankly, the Skins did operate from the shotgun much of the second half, but the “no-huddle” was a no-show until it was a non-factor in the outcome.

I wrote prior to the season on how Shanahan and his ‘system’ were eerily reminiscent of Spurrier and his ‘system’.

Here’s my final thoughts from ArmchairQuarterBlog back in early August:

So, how does Shanahan avoid becoming Spurrier II (or Zorn)?

First, he hopes that either Beck or Grossman emerges as a leader and does it quickly. Then he hopes that a running attack and a line with less “name” talent than nine years ago gels into a unit that can control the ball and actually find the end zone four or five times a game. But, it might come down to Shanahan simply proving that he, in fact, is a better coach than Spurrier was at the NFL-level. He’ll certainly prove it if he wins with his current crop of players, an unproven lot to say the least.

The most realistic goal for Shanahan in 2011 is to show that the Redskins are evolving from the team that always “wins the off-season” into the team that “wins when it really matters.”

So far, neither Beck nor Grossman nor the line nor the running backs are getting it done (injuries to guys like Trent Williams are certainly playing a part here).  And, thanks to a guy named John Elway, Mike Shanahan has a pair of Super Bowl rings and they might have to suffice as proof of being a better pro coach than Spurrier (at least until 2012).  

2012 assumes, of course, that rumors of Miami’s interest in Bill Cowher don’t pique Dan Snyder’s interest and lead to a change in coaching regimes here instead of South Florida.  Danny might not even blink at the suggestion of Cowher returning to coaching.  There’s been no rumor mill on this topic.  But, then again, Snyder has managed to keep his coaching searches well under wraps.  Nobody, and I mean nobody, can honestly say they saw the return of Gibbs or the decision to hire Zorn coming. So, I’m just saying that a 2-7 finish and the fear of losing one of Dan’s favorites to another club could… ya know where I’m leaning… but, I don’t want to trigger a coaching controversy here.

As of October 31, this is what Shanahan has to say about the 2011 Skins: “We’ve got some young players that are playing [that] I think have a big upside at a number of positions. Obviously, it’s not going to happen overnight. I’ve got a lot of belief in these guys that they’ll play well [and] hopefully much better than we played yesterday.”

Trouble is, Mike… The clock is running… There’s only a little more than half a season left… And December’s schedule is a vacuum that could suck the hope out of anything.

Ross, the creator of Throwback Baseball 1.0, also blogs about sports memorabilia at: www.aberdeentradingco.com

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MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro

In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on October 27, 2011 at 5:19 am
Jack Nicklaus remains the greatest golfer of all-time, with a record 18 major championships in a playing career spanning more than 50 years. His golf design and architecture company also has been responsible for producing more than 275 Nicklaus signature courses around the world.
 Recently, I asked him to pick out the five courses he likes to play more than any other. Diplomatic Golden Bear that he is, Nicklaus preferred not to put them in any particular order, just as he chose not to rank his five favorite career victories, saying they all held a special place in his heart. No matter. It’s probably more fun to guess.
 Favorite Courses:
 St. Andrews. The Old Course, the home of golf, where he won his second British Open in 1970, beating Doug Sanders in a playoff, and won his third and last Open title in 1978, a two-shot victory over Tom Kite, Ben Crenshaw, Raymond Floyd and Simon Owen.
Augusta National.  Nicklaus is an honorary member of the club and the winner of a record six Masters titles, including a four-year stretch between 1963 and 1966 when he won three times with one runner-up finish. He also won his final major there at age 46 in 1986 and became the oldest Masters champion.
Pebble Beach. On one of the most beautiful seaside golf courses in the world, Nicklaus won the third of his four U.S. Open titles there in 1972, defeating Bruce Crampton by three shots. He also won the old Bing Crosby pro-am at Pebble in 1972 and 1973 and twice was runner-up in that event.
Muirfield Village. The centerpiece golf course in a Dublin, Ohio community developed by Nicklaus, it’s been the venue for The Memorial tournament, his signature event on the PGA Tour, since 1976. Nicklaus won his own tournament in 1977 and 1984, and tinkers with the course virtually every year to account for changes in club and ball technology. The course has hosted a Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup and U.S. Amateur and is annually listed among the top 100 in the U.S.
The Bear’s Club. Nicklaus’s home course in Jupiter, FL., not far from his home and office.  He designed the course, opened in 1999, over a 400-acre piece of lush real estate, with a 40,000-foot Tuscan clubhouse and arguably the finest golfing amenities in the state.
Favorite Victories:
 
1959 U.S. Amateur. At the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, CO., Nicklaus, only 19 and a student at Ohio State University, won the first of his two amateur titles, beating Charles Coe, 1-up in the 36-hole final. Nicklaus always has said the victory was a springboard for launching his career.
1962 U.S. Open. As a rookie on the PGA Tour, his first professional victory came at Oakmont Country Club in the Pittsburgh suburbs, where he beat Arnold Palmer in an 18-hole playoff after both tied for the lead after 72 holes. It was the beginning of a fierce rivalry, and ultimately, a great friendship between the two titans of the game.
1966 British Open. After winning The ’66 Masters and finishing third at the U.S. Open, Nicklaus won his first Open title at Muirfield, completing a career Grand Slam of winning each of the four major championships. He went on to name Muirfield Village after the venerable Scottish venue where he defeated Doug Sanders and Dave Thomas by a shot.
1973 PGA Championship. Nicklaus won his 14th major title at Canterbury Golf Club in his native Ohio, defeating Bruce Crampton by four shots to surpass Bob Jones previous record of 13 career major championships.
 
1986 Masters. In the week before the tournament, Atlanta Constitution golf writer Tom McCollister wrote that the 46-year-old Nicklaus was “done, washed up, through.” Nicklaus used those words to motivate himself all week, and beat Tom Kite and Greg Norman by a shot for his 18th and final major title. The great Herbert Warren Wind described that victory as “nothing less than the most important accomplishment in golf since Bob Jones Grand Slam in 1930.”

MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro

In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on October 20, 2011 at 9:28 pm
Not long ago, a lawyer acquaintance dropped me a note after the University of South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier dismissed starting quarterback Stephen Garcia, allegedly because of his problems with alcohol and marijuana, according to ESPN.
 
The reason I thought of you is because a while back, we exchanged a few emails about how alcohol has pervaded college athletics,” he wrote. “I’m sure you have heard of the recent troubles with our quarterback who was finally let go. Alcohol was a big problem for him. The University also had a problem with alcohol and its fraternity rush that was so bad that it had to suspend rush for several weeks this fall.
“It seems to me that it is inconsistent with the University’s and Athletic Department’s policies to have Budweiser as the primary sponsor all of the
pregame shows. At the same time, Coach Spurrier has a line of wines bearing his name and then he appears in radio spots warning against drinking and driving and touting designated drivers. I wrote to the athletic department 2010 but was summarily ignored.”
I’m not all that familiar with the South Carolina situation, but his e-mail doesn’t surprise me. College athletics couldn’t exist these days without the advertising and sponsorship money that major breweries pump into big-time college football and basketball, not to mention the NFL, which has its own problem with far too many athletes drinking too much.
Spurrier, by the way, does own Steve Spurrier Vineyards. A Google search, in fact, revealed the following story posted by a South Carolina television station on the vineyard’s newest product.
It reads, ““Coach Steve Spurrier has announced the latest offering from Spurrier Vineyards–“Gamecock Garnet”–with proceeds set to go to the Steve Spurrier Foundation and USC Golf programs.The wine is offered at more than 50 retail locations throughout South Carolina, including several in the Midlands.
   
Spurrier said the commemorative wine is offered through a partnership between Southern Wine and Spirits of South Carolina.  Southern Wine and Spirits Vice President and General Manager Tom Collins said in a news release that the wine celebrates the Gamecock Football Team’s SEC Eastern Division championship in 2010.
  
“The wine is a great way to recognize the title and also benefit South Carolina
Golf
& Coach Spurrier’s charities,” Collins said.”
I like a glass of Chardonnay as much as anyone, and I suspect Spurrier must be something of a connoisseur, as well. But the notion that a football coach at a major state university who just released his star quarterback for excessive drinking owning his own vineyard that produces an alcoholic beverage surely smacks of some serious hypocricy, even if the golf team and other charities are beneficiaries.
Wonder how many kids at the school are heading to their local Piggly Wiggly and showing their school spirit (pardon the expression) by plunking down $15 for a little Gamecock Garnet, and then getting blitzed guzzling it down on Saturday night after the big game.
With so many campuses facing serious problems with binge drinking on campus, one might think the university might have something to say about the head coach’s wine business. Apparently, as long as the Gamecocks keep winning, it’s no problem for anyone save the star quarterback, who is no longer with the football team because he can’t handle his alcohol. 
 

SPORTS LANDSCAPE Bill Sullivan

In THE SPORTS LANDSCAPE Bill Sullivan on October 13, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Pitching always beats hitting although Phillies manager Charlie Manuel might disagree. His Fab Four of Ray Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels couldn’t advance to the NL Championship Series. The foursome couldn’t even dispatch the Cardinals, who a month ago, were about out of the NL Wild Card race.

Imagine how Manuel feels. What do you think the West Virginia native earned as a rookie outfielder with the Minnesota Twins in 1969? Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven was a Twins rookie the following year. What do you think “Be Home By” made when making his MLB debut at RFK Stadium against the Washington Senators?

For all the money the Phillies deposited into the accounts of the aforementioned aces, the team won the NL East, making them better than the Braves, Nats, Marlins and Mets. Whoppee! Not sure that’s celebrated right now in suburban Philly taverns.

A day after the Yanks were eliminated by Detroit, Hal Steinbrenner and GM Brian Cashman were in spend mode, worried about keeping their ace, CC Sabathia, happy. Apparently, the big fella may opt out of the remaining four years on his contract – a paltry $23M per. Reports are he wants $24.2M a season in a new pact. For what? Failing to reach the ACLS? In the eyes of Yankee brass, he’s partially responsible for a “disappointing” season, to quote Hal. He’s also overweight. And ringless in the Bronx, Cleveland and Milwaukee. If the Yanks decide not to bump up CC’s salary, think he’ll stay in pinstripes or film another soft drink commercial to increase his exposure to other suitors?

Baseball team owners never get it, especially the Steinbrenner clan.

During the last off-season, Yankee captain Derek Jeter sought $24M over six seasons. Think his demand had anything to do with “Yankee Pride?” All the revered No. 2 wanted was cash. One baseball executive said during those negotiations, “The Yanks should offer him what he’s really worth – about $10M a season. What team’s going to outbid the Yanks, Cincinnati?”

Back to the Yankees’ latest collapse. In the ALDS versus the Tigers, Sabathia started two games and won neither. His ERA, like his physique, was inflated (6.23). He walked almost as many (8) as he struck out (11). In three games vs. Detroit, the “workhorse” pitched 8 2/3 innings.

Times have changed. Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Jim Palmer, Vida Blue, Steve Carlton, Jerry Koosman, Mickey Lolich, Randy Johnson and Tim Lincecum each pitched more innings in one game when leading their teams to victory during the World Series.

Hal’s expensive slugging duo of Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira combined to go 5-for-36 (.138) with just two extra-base hits – both doubles – vs. Tiger pitching. Of those 35 at bats, the pair fanned 11 times. On one K, Rodriguez nonchalantly toed his bat in stride while walking back to the dugout. On the last out of the series, on-deck hitter Teixeira hustled back to the dugout like he needed the john. What was the hurry? Was the Yankee Stadium playing field going to be swarmed with “losing” fans? You lost, Mark!

Even Jeter couldn’t lead with his bat, striking out eight times in 24 at bats for a .250 average. This after signing the inflated 3-year extension last spring for $17M per. He’s paid like one of the best shortstops in the game but didn’t play like it when it mattered.

Just two Yankee regulars – Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner hit over .300 in the Tiger series.

Such stars need not care about the state of our economy but maybe they should consider the following while seeking their multi-millions: the unemployment rate is over 9%, 51M adults can’t afford health insurance, 46M Americans live in poverty, the city of Harrisburg, Pa. has filed for bankruptcy protection, gas prices are rising, home equities are dropping, job layoffs are rampant (35,000 postal service workers will be out of work over the next three years), bank loans have dried up and the country’s credit rating dropped for the first time in 70 years.

Chemistry isn’t in the Steinbrenner vernacular. Nor is it a building block of their Yankee teams. Reggie Jackson, Kenny Rogers, Dave Winfield, Roger Clemens, Rickey Henderson, Carl Pavano and A.J. Burnett come to mind. A collection of stars gives a manager just that, a collection of egos and big contracts devoid of morphing into success. And winning the AL East isn’t the pinnacle. Two years ago, Texeira talked about playing for his hometown team, the Baltimore Orioles, when he was renegotiating. The Maryland native played the sentimental angle until the Yanks put big money on the table. All of a sudden, the first baseman didn’t care about playing in front of his family 82 times a year. Gaithersburg, MD is a 40-minute drive to Camden Yards, a little easier than a 3½ -hour commute to New York.

The Yanks would more likeable – and respected – if they developed another “core five” to follow homegrown stars Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Bernie Williams. Competing with their checkbook makes the Yanks winners in the bidding auction but not on the field.

 

 

 

 

 

LET ME GET THIS STRAIGHT Ross MacCallum

In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on October 7, 2011 at 2:39 pm

I’m having a tough time trying to figure out if anybody cares whether the NBA season begins anytime soon, or if it ever begins.

Oh sure, the truly die-hard fans will be disappointed if there’s no NBA season. And arena vendors, lower level team employees, and local bars and restaurants will feel the loss of an NBA season right where it hurts most—in the wallet. But do the players or owners care? Not much. That’s the reality when billionaires and millionaires fight over their share of the league pie.

Part of the problem is the NBA’s image. As the casual fan sees it, the games don’t really begin until the fourth quarter, and the season doesn’t really begin until the playoffs start. Right? Right!

Part of the problem is with the teams. Most of them are NOT worth watching in person or on TV. Seriously, the Clippers, the Bobcats, the Cavaliers, the Kings, the “you insert any name other than Lakers, Celtics, or Heat here.”

Part of the problem is with the players. The days of Jordan, Bird, and Magic seem so distant now. And, the likes of Kobe, Lebron and friends in Miami, Melo, and so on, create an ambivalence that hasn’t been seen in the NBA since the 1981 Finals were buried on late night TV—tape delayed until after your late local news. I suspect that it’s a combination of their off-court antics and their perceived “money first” attitudes.

The “streetball” games with the travelling Kevin Durant highlight shows have been a positive, but it doesn’t help that many of the players seem to be lining up “Plan B” gigs in Europe and China. They’re making sure they get paid no matter what happens in the negotiations for the new collective bargaining agreement. At least, the “big” names will get paid. Delonte West might not be the only player looking for work at the Home Depot if the season doesn’t start on time. The first potentially missed NBA paychecks are due in November. We’ll see who’s motivated to make a deal in December or January.

Part of the problem is with the owners. As expected, they want it their way or no way. And, they seem way too willing to embrace the NHL’s “scorched earth” policy of 2004-05 when it cancelled the entire season. In reality, six current NBA owners (Washington’s Ted Leonsis for example) also own the NHL club in the same city, and five other owners share an arena with their NHL counterpart. Trust me, these guys either lived through the ’04-’05 NHL shutdown, or they learned from watching their hockey brethren that they will get as much as they want if they are willing to wait. The NHL players folded in ’05 and accepted a “hard salary cap.” No reason not to expect the same from the NBA players in ’11 or ’12. It could all depend on how influential guys like the Wizards’ Ted Leonsis or the Knicks’ James Dolan are. (Needless to say, they won’t mention that the NHL deal is up next year, and the hockey world itself could be facing a replay of ’05.)

Recent reports do indicate the NBA owners might be backing away from a “hard” cap, and they simply want to keep a greater share of the total league income from TV, tickets, merchandise, etc. That to me just hints that the owners want business as usual, but with more cash to waste on guaranteed multi-year, multi-million dollar contracts for guys like the overpaid, underperforming Rashard Lewis of the Wizards (maybe not for long though).

And, last but never least, part of the problem is with the fans themselves. And, this could be critical for the future of the NBA. The basic sports fan knows that he can survive without a certain sport for an extended period of time. We all lived through the NHL shutdown six years ago. Many of us have lived through various shortened baseball (’81 & ’94) and football seasons (’82 & ‘87) and the NBA half-season of 1999. It’s surprisingly easy to live minus an entire league for an entire season. Of course, we fans are foolishly quick to forgive the players and owners who spurned us, and flock back to the sport in great numbers as soon as the doors to the stadium are re-opened. The best example of this is the current NFL season which is enjoying strong attendance and big TV ratings despite a lockout that eliminated or curtailed the entire off- and pre-seasons and threatened, at the very least, a partial loss of the regular season.

Fans often forget that the money the billionaires and millionaires play with belongs to… wait for it… THE FANS. They can, but seldom do, vote with their wallets. A resounding, “No, Thank You,” to the return of the NBA next February or next September or next whenever, could send a message heard in all corners of pro sports.

Sadly, the fans will abdicate their power to the owners once again. The same owners who can never seem to police themselves well enough to avoid thrashing their golden goose within an inch of its life. The same owners who always seem to find loopholes that allow them to manipulate, outmaneuver, and, in essence, defeat their own plans designed to keep them from doing what they do best—bending the salary cap and wasting money.

It will be interesting to see if the NBA owners are willing to follow the NHL lead of six seasons ago and completely pull the plug on ’11-‘12. Technically, only six of the owners can afford to lose the entire basketball season, assuming, of course, their NHL teams can provide enough of a financial crutch to lean on through lean times. Larger market teams could also be better positioned overall to ride out the storm. But, what about the small market clubs? It wouldn’t shock me to find out that Oklahoma City, Charlotte, Indiana, Milwaukee, Utah, Memphis, New Orleans, ad infinitum, are all losing money with a normal revenue stream in place. How can they possibly hang on with NO revenue at all?

Will there still be an NBA season? Will there still be an NBA? Will there still be anyone left who cares if there isn’t?

Ross, the creator of Throwback Baseball 1.0, also blogs about sports memorabilia at: www.aberdeentradingco.com

SPORTS LANDSCAPE Bill Sullivan

In THE SPORTS LANDSCAPE Bill Sullivan on October 4, 2011 at 7:17 pm

On the last day of the baseball season, New York Met shortstop Jose Reyes excused himself from duty after laying down a bunt single in his first at bat. Not wanting to jeopardize his lead over Ryan Braun for the best batting average in the National League, he sat and watched the final eight innings. Meanwhile, Braun went hitless in four trips to lose the title by .005. One has to wonder if Reyes’s agent suggested the move to make the prized infielder more marketable in the off-season.

The bar for such occasions was set high by Ted Williams, who owns the batting average record of .406 in 1941. Before the final two games of the season, he was hitting .39955. Rounded, that’s a .400 average he could have claimed while sitting out the doubleheader. But Williams played both games, saying he wouldn’t have deserved the mark had he not played. Williams went 6-for-8 in the twin bill to finish at 406.

In Reyes’s case, he weaseled out of three at bats. Shameless, but what’s new with the Mets? From ownership to management, to the medical staff, it’s been a dysfunctional organization under owner Fred Wilpon.

Two years ago, the Wilpon family was so awed with Jackie Robinson, it dedicated Citi Field’s rotunda to No. 42. Meanwhile, Met fans completed the tour without finding a trace of the club founder Bill Shea, as well as owner Joan Payson, general manager George Weiss and field manager Casey Stengel.

Where were the placards of Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry and Gary Carter? Seaver and Carter are enshrined in Cooperstown but were hard to locate at Citi Field. Wilpon grew up a Dodger fan and still is. Not until a fan backlash and media scrutiny were murals of Gooden and company hastily painted on Citi’s blank walls.

The Wilpons even tanked on the field dimensions at the Mets’ new stadium. The Mo Zone generates ad revenue but few home runs. David Wright is the prime example of a hitter suffering due to this cut-out in right field. Many a broadcaster has sighed, “That would have been a homer in any other park.” Balls blasted 415 feet fall into the right fielder’s glove or bounce against the screen for a long double.

Met General Manager Sandy Alderson needed a year-long study to remedy the obvious – move the right-field fence in or home plate out. And the Pikes Peak wall in left needs to be shorter than 16 feet. Fans want home runs and players love to hit ’em. They juice up a dull and slow game during hot summers.

The season began with hopes of ace Johan Santana returning in August. But his arm was never ready. The man won two Cy Youngs with Minnesota but tops off at 12, 13 victories in New York. And at what price?

Wright may not be a superstar but he’s an All-Star. And he regularly hit 30 HRs a year before moving to Citi, where batters need to swing from the pitcher’s mound to clear the fence. Still, why did Wilpon lash out at the second-best player on the team and the most loyal member of his team?

Francisco Rodriguez, the Mets’ closer, was more noted for punching out his father in law than shutting down hitters. Overpaid and over-hyped, he was traded to Milwaukee in mid-season. Meanwhile, the closer in the Bronx was getting accolades from the White House for saving his 600th game.

“Slugger” Jason Bay was signed for his power stroke after averaging 33 HRs and 110 RBI in two season prior to his coming to Flushing. But with the Mets, he’s averaged 9 HRs and 52 RBIs. The left fielder hit everywhere he’s played except in New York. The dead bat in the lineup comes at a $16M-a-year cost. During the last week of the season, Bay missed two games with the sniffles. The same day, Tony Romo of the Cowboys played an entire game with a broken rib.

And what’s it with the Mets’ medical staff? It can’t diagnose an ailment, be it Reyes’s hamstrings, Ryan Church’s concussion or knee of Carlos Beltran? The slugging right fielder made his own decision for surgery and missed half a season in 2010. Where was the communication? Disenchanted with having to pay him $18M for another season, the Mets sent him to San Francisco. In seven years with the Mets, Beltran appeared in zero World Series.

Now, the Mets cuddle up at the hot stove with a suspect ace, an undependable pitching staff, a meek-hitting clean-up man and a question mark at shortstop. Ike Davis returns to first base after missing half a season with an injured foot. Even that took months to decipher he didn’t need surgery. At least for now. Daniel Murphy hits .300 but where does the team hide his glove? Is Lucas Duda the best the team can do in right field? Does the team think it’ll win with the combination of Josh Thole and Ronny Paulino at catcher? Will Chris Young and Jerry Meija return from season-ending injuries? Will Angel Pagan ever hit .300 again?

For 2012, the Marlins have a new manager and new stadium. Washington has Stephen Strasburg for an entire season with Bryce Harper ready for MLB duty. MVP candidate Prince Fielder could be the Nats’ next first baseman. Philadelphia, favored to win the World Series, will again win 100 games. Atlanta will again threaten to win the Wild Card.

But the Mets seem headed for the cellar. On the field or off the field, year after year, the team nets newspaper headlines for all the wrong reasons.