Sandy Koufax has made annuals visits to the New York Mets’ spring training camp in Port St. Lucie for several years. His longtime friendship with beleaguered owner Fred Wilpon is one reason; his longtime friendship with manager Terry Collins has become another. This time, his first spring visit focused on two young Mets pitchers, Bobby Parnell and Matt Harvey. The Hall of Famer talked mechanics with Parnell and confidence with Harvey, who said he was “blown away” by Koufax’s visit.
“I told him it was a huge honour to me to meet him,” the Met’s number two prospect told MLB.com. “I was kind of star-struck to meet him. I didn’t believe it. After I said it was an honor to meet you, he said, ‘It’s an honor to meet you. I told Terry I wanted to meet you.’ It’s kind of surreal I guess. That was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever experienced.” Earlier, Harvey impressed the Mets’ camp and the Atlanta Braves when he pitched two perfect innings in a spring exhibition, including luring Chipper Jones into a ground out and punching out Jason Heyward on a rising fastball.
Parnell, meanwhile, received tips on pitching grips and going with comes naturally: “We more or less talked about mechanics today. He would like to see my stride be a little bit longer and stay back on my legs, to generate some velocity. We even went over some grips. Just more stay back on your legs and become natural and showed me how he grips the fastball.”
Koufax also paid a visit to Johan Santana, before Santana’s bullpen session resulted in his getting the go-ahead to begin pitching in earnest again. Alluding to the anterior capsule tear that became Santana’s nightmare in 2010, Koufax quipped, “I just said, ‘Hello, and stay healthy.’ It was the same thing I said two years ago.” Koufax is said to be planning another visit to the Mets’ camp before spring training ends.
Wilpon also still has Koufax in his corner. (The pair have been close friends since their days at Lafayette High School in Brooklyn.) “[He’s] going through tough times, and he’s a good person,” Koufax told the New York Post. “He always has been. We’ve been friends for 60-odd years and I love him. I just hate to see him go through it.” Still a defendant in the Bernie Madoff recovery case, though his liability was recently reduced significantly and he may yet come out of a trial paying even less, with the Madoff recovery trustee still insisting Wilpon knew or should have known just what Madoff was doing, Wilpon also contends with the Mets having lost $70 million in 2011.
These days, Koufax is also a member of the Baseball Assistance Team advisory board. The BAT, of course, helps former major, minor, and Negro Leagues players whose careers preceded the free agency era get through financial and medical struggles. Those who were there a few years ago won’t forget Koufax, somewhat out of character, asking for the microphone at a BAT dinner and saying, “I’m not just saying this because he’s been my friend for sixty years, but I was wondering why Fred Wilpon is the only owner here tonight.”
The Mets, meanwhile, also contend with third baseman David Wright having to miss another week rehabilitating a problem with his rib cage. Collins says Wright is actually getting better but is taking things steady.
* YES, WAY, JOSE?—Koufax’s camp visit wasn’t the only buzz around or involving the Mets the last couple of days. The New York Daily News is calling bull on Miami Marlins owner David Samson’s claim that Jose Reyes was looking for every dollar he could land in free agency. News writer Andy Martino says it wasn’t the money that proved the key issue between Reyes and the Mets after all, with Reyes having said he would have taken just about a hometown discount—the issue, says Martino, is that the Mets wouldn’t sign Reyes (who got a six-year deal with the Fish) for more than four years, while Reyes wanted five years almost no matter the money.
* MANNY RUSHING MANNY?—Just when you thought it was safe to have a drama- or comedy-free spring training, along comes Manny Ramirez, returning to baseball by way of the Oakland Athletics organisation. He tells anyone who’ll listen now, such as FoxSports.com, that retiring last year (after making the Tampa Bay Rays out of spring training) was a big mistake, and FoxSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal says baseball wasn’t going to push for a 100-game drug violation suspension last year since a) the players’ union was pushing for 50 games, and b) there was no deal to cut his suspension further this year. (Ramirez has to sit out fifty games to start the season whether he makes the A’s out of spring training or goes to the minors to continue working back into shape; he’s already tapped for extended spring training and can work out with the A’s before fans come to the ballpark under the suspension’s terms.) For his part, Ramirez says retiring was a mistake because he ran away from his penalty: “When you make a mistake,” he said, “just face it. Nobody’s perfect in life. Face it.” He also revealed there was a brief flirtation with the Toronto Blue Jays before he signed with Oakland: the Jays seemed interested at first but then balked enough. “He was impatient last April, retiring on impulse,” says Rosenthal. “Ramirez would have missed no more than 100 games and perhaps only 50, then resumed his career. Instead, he was Manny being Manny, making another curious decision in a career full of puzzling steps.” And, raising questions—yet again—as to whether he’s really wising up or whether he’s trying to kid everyone including himself.
* NO WAY, JOSE—Just when you thought it was safe not to think about Jose Canseco, the Mexican League bans him for refusing a drug test, which refusal the league treats the same as it does a positive test, though Canseco says he has a prescription for a testosterone-producing medication because he no longer produces enough naturally. “How can I test positive when I never took any test don’t believe everything the media tells you,” the former major league outfielder wailed on Twitter this week. “The truth always comes out I am not using any illegal substance[s]. Don’t be so quick to judge till you here the truth that’s a sure sign of ignorance hatred and jealousy.” Canseco looked to be joining the Quintano Roo Tigers before the ban.
* BACKING AWAY—Former players’ agent turned executive Jeff Moorad, now the vice president and chief executive officer of the San Diego Padres and a former minority owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks, has pulled away from his bid to finish buying the Padres (he heads a group with a 49 percent stake in the team) so he and incumbent owner John Moores can focus on a new television contract for the team. “With Opening Day less than one month away, John Moores and I believe our top priority is to ensure that Padres fans will be able to watch broadcasts of what we believe is an exciting baseball team,” said Moorad in a formal statement. “I remain fully committed to the San Diego Padres and our fans, and am looking forward to the 2012 season.” Moorad isn’t out of the picture for finishing the buy, however: he has two years yet to finish buying out the Moores group.
* EASING THE PAIN—Buster Posey’s comeback from the leg shattering that finished his 2011 season early just got a little less painful: the San Francisco Giants made Posey one of seventeen players secured to single-season, non-guaranteed contracts, players who also include pitchers Madison Bumgarner (a World Series hero in 2010), Hector Correa, Steve Edlefsen, Danny Otero, Ran Runzler, and Eric Surkamp; catchers Hector Sanchez and Chris Stewart; infielders Ehire Adrianza, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Charlie Culberson, Conor Gillespie, Brett Pill, and Angel Villanona; and, outfielders Tyler Graham, Roger Kieschnick, and Francisco Peguero.
* HEADS UP—Baltimore Orioles outfielder Nolan Reimold took an Alex Cobb (Tampa Bay) fastball off his jaw in an exhibition game Friday, but Reimold says the worst he took away from it was a chipped tooth. Still, he also says he’ll wait for the swelling to go down completely before he returns to the field actively. “”It caught me right in the meat of the jaw,” Reimold told the Baltimore Sun, “so I guess I’m pretty lucky.” He’s also not holding Cobb at fault: “”He wasn’t trying to hit me,” Reimold said. “It was a fastball and it just moved up and in. If my face wasn’t there, it wouldn’t have hit me. He didn’t try to do it, obviously. I just said, ‘Relay the message,’ and I’m sure he did. Nothing to feel bad about.”
* HEADS UP, II—Actually, more like the neck up: Chris Carpenter is going to miss a spring start thanks to a stiff neck. The St. Louis Cardinals righthander—4-0 in the 2011 postseason including Game Seven of the World Series—left a practise Friday complaining of soreness; he was due to start Monday. According to the Associated Press, the Cardinals have yet to offer updates on Carpenter’s health as of this writing. Carpenter’s injury-punctuated career has included winning two Tony Conigliaro Awards from the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox established the award in 1990, named for their one-time outfield star, given to a player who overcomes obstacles and/or adversity by sheer determination. Conigliaro was hit in the face by a pitch in 1967 , missed the rest of that season and all of 1968, won the Comeback Player of the Year Award in 1969, but suffered vision problems that forced him out of baseball by 1975. Conigliaro died in 1990, after eight years in a near-vegetative state following a heart attack that led to a coma-inducing stroke.
* CHOICES—The Empire Emeritus may have to make them, and they may not necessarily be fun, either: with co-owner Hal Steinbrenner swearing to get the Yankee payroll below $189 million by 2014, the better to avoid even heavier luxury taxes, they may—may—have to choose between keeping Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano, says the New York Daily News. Columnist John Harper says that if the Yankees had to make the choice right this minute Cano would have the edge, considering both his dangerous bat and his second base play, but Granderson isn’t worried just yet. Still, Harper notes that, in 2014, the Yankees will be on the hook for $100 million for five players already, before factoring Cano’s potential $20 million single-season price tag by then: Alex Rodriguez ($25 million for ’14), CC Sabathia ($23 million), Mark Teixiera ($22.5 million), and Derek Jeter (an $8 million player option, assuming he doesn’t retire by or before then). That $100 million would leave the Yankees, based on Prince Hal’s stated goal, $89 million to cover Cano, four starting pitchers, a designated hitter, a bench, a bullpen, and three outfielders, not to mention having to decide whether to commit to Russell Martin long-enough term behind the dish or hand touted prospect Austin Romine the full-time catching job in 2013. And, Harper notes, if the Yankees’ youthful starters don’t come through and the team is compelled to reach out for such coming free agents as Cole Hamels or Matt Cain, that could leave Granderson even more the proverbial odd man out. All of which means that watching the Yankees off the field is still going to be at least as interesting as watching them on the field.
* RIP—Longtime National League umpire Harry Wendelstedt died at 73 Friday, after a long illness following the discovery of a brain tumour. Wendelstedt worked seven National League Championship Series and four All-Star Games in a 33-year career (his son, Hunter, is now a major league ump), but he may be remembered best for ruling San Francisco catcher Dick Dietz failed to get out of the way when it looked like he was hit by a Don Drysdale pitch with the bases loaded, nobody out, and Drysdale’s consecutive shutout innings streak on the line. (Dietz, who died in 2005, subsequently admitted he was trying to get plunked by the notoriously inside-working Drysdale, to try to break the streak.) Wendelstedt’s ruling was quite by the book, though not often enforced, and Drysdale went on to retire the side without a run and extend the streak to a then-record 58 straight scoreless. Wendelstedt and his son were part of the crew during the younger Wendelstedt’s first major league season . . . and the elder’s last. Former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda—who was scouting for the Dodgers in the stands when Wendelstedt ruling against Dietz—has championed Wendelstedt for Hall of Fame enshrinement.