(Neil Miller/Sportsday Wire)
Mets outfielder Michael Cuddyer surprised everyone, especially Mets management, when he decided to call it a career at age 37 after 15 years in the majors.
Cuddyer came over to the Mets last winter as a free agent from the Colorado Rockies. Age and injuries conspired to rob him of his chance to show Mets fans what made him a formidable hitter for the bulk of his career. The understandable reaction from the media and nearly every fan of the Amazins was joyful. It wasn’t necessarily a slap at Michael as much as it was the feeling that the penurious Mets would now have the financial ability to sign a primo free agent slugger such as Justin Upton or Yoenis Cespedes who the Mets had as a three-month rental last season. That probably won’t happen however.
The term “team leader” is overused in sports but in Cuddyer’s case it was very appropriate this past season. When Mets captain David Wright missed nearly all of the 2015 regular season battling spinal stenosis, Michael and Curtis Granderson became the go-to guys for the media when a quote was needed after either an exhilarating win or a painful loss.
In a time when all too many ballplayers try to hide from the press, or make it abundantly clear that they don’t want to be approached for even a quick query, Cuddyer was always congenial. He always had a welcoming smile.
His leadership abilities truly came through during the post-season. When Major League Baseball PR officials needed a Mets player to talk with the media in the Citi Field during the playoffs and World Series, it was Cuddyer who answered the call.
He projected confidence and reassurance about his team’s chances via the media to Mets fans. With the Mets trailing the Royals 3 games to 1and facing elimination I humorously asked Michael before Game 5 of the World Series if the players were blasting the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” over the clubhouse stereo. “No one is panicking and everyone is loose,” he replied. The Mets wound up losing that night but it was because the Royals were a better team and not because the Mets were uptight.
After missing out on signing Ben Zobrist, the Mets landed a quality second baseman at last week’s winter meetings when they obtained Neil Walker from the Pirates in exchange for longtime Mets pitcher Jon Niese.
Walker grew up in Pittsburgh and lived in his old room at his parents’ house during his first couple of years with the Pirates. Yes, big league players make good money from day one but there is always the risk that they will be sent down to the minors. That means breaking leases and having to deal with moving items from place to place. Mets pitcher Steven Matz, who is from Long Island, did the same thing last season.
The Jets had no trouble dispatching the Tennessee Titans 30-8 this past Sunday. There was some fear that the Jets, who won an emotional overtime game against the Giants the previous week, would be flat against a seemingly inferior opponent.
After the game I asked Jets head coach Todd Bowles if he was as concerned as the New York sports media was about this being a “trap game.” Bowles dryly replied, “We’re not good enough to take any opponent lightly. We’re not the Golden State Warriors!”
Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick played an error-free game and has been the steadying force for the Jets that Geno Smith probably would never have been. Fitzpatrick, a graduate of Harvard University, won the Ivy League’s answer to the Heisman Trophy, the Bushnell Cup, in 2004. This past week another Harvard QB, Scott Hosch, was the recipient of the 2015 Bushnell. Fitzpatrick said that he met Hosch after Harvard defeated Columbia a few weeks ago but that he did not get a chance to send him formal congratulations yet.
Actor Ed Marinaro, who was a star running back at Cornell, won the Bushnell Cup in 1971 and was runner-up for the Heisman Trophy to Auburn QB Pat Sullivan that year. He attended this year’s ceremony at the Waldorf-Astoria that was held last Monday. He told me that he is taking part in the movie version of the former ribald Spike TV college football satire, “Blue Mountain State.” Marinaro said that it should be released sometime next year but he wasn’t sure if it would play in movie theaters or go straight to video.
Alabama running back Derrick Henry won the 2015 Heisman Trophy Saturday night while Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey finished a distant second. Christian is the son of former Giants wide receiver Ed McCaffrey. He admitted that it’s tough to juggle a rigorous academic schedule at a top-notch higher educational institution but that he tries to use the spring and summer sessions as a way of catching up. McCaffrey was mum when I asked him if he believed that college athletes should be compensated. Even stranger, he claims that he never discussed concerns about concussions with his dad who played 14 years in the NFL. He wouldn’t even commit to seeing the about-to-be released Will Smith film, “Concussion.”
Last Monday night the Knicks, as they do annually, saluted Queens. They sent a camera crew to our borough to accompany current Knicks reserve forward-center Kyle O’Quinn to his old neighborhood, Springfield Gardens, and showed the brief film, which had top-notch production values, on the Jumbotron screen.
In a bit of kismet for the Knicks’ Queens Night tribute, one of the opposing players that evening was Charlie Villanueva who grew up in Elmhurst and is now a backup center for Mark Cuban’s Dallas Mavericks.
Cuban, the charismatic Mavs’ owner, told me before the game that he is optimistic that Time Warner Cable will be carrying his AXS TV in 2016. AXS was formely HD Net, which was the first full-time HD cable television network when high definition television was a fledgling technology.
Last Thursday night the Nets celebrated the fifth night of Hanukkah with a lighting of a menorah comprised of basketballs during a timeout during their game with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Former St. John’s star forward JaKarr Sampson is now a bench player for the Sixers. He told me before the game that while the constant losing is not fun his teammates all support each other and that there is no finger-pointing. Sure enough, the atmosphere in the Sixers’ locker room was upbeat which completely belied their awful record.
I ran into former Congressman Tom McMillen at last week’s Sports Business Journal-IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum. Before serving three terms in the House of Representatives, McMillen had an 11-year NBA career that was preceded by a stellar career at the University of Maryland in the early 1970s. He is currently the director of the Division 1A Athletic Directors Association.
McMillen reiterated what another NBA star turned politician, Bill Bradley, once told me; namely the greatest cause to the failure of our two parties to work together in Congress to forge solutions is gerrymandered districts. Politicians are more afraid of primaries than general elections and therefore have to pander to the extreme bases of their respective parties.
If you are looking for humorous greeting cards for any occasion, including the holiday season, check out Paper Epiphanies (paperepiphanies.com). The company was founded by Victoria Venturi who is related to the late legendary golfer, Ken Venturi.
I have to admit that I am not a big believer in the term “organic” because I think that it’s often marketing hype. A welcomed exception is San Francisco-based beverage company, Purity Organic, that makes juices with no added sugars and combines healthy fruits and vegetables into its juices as exemplified by its Blackberry Apple Chia and Kale Coconut Water Apple Spinach Superjuices. They provide cold-fighting Vitamin C, energy, and taste good even for those who don’t like the taste of those no-fun green vegetables. Purity Organic also makes coconut water, iced teas, and lemonade. The company raised its profile this past fall with millennials by being a sponsor at the cutting edge New York music showcase, the CMJ Festival.