Here’s my once-a-year report on New York’s pathetic professional sports teams. In football, both the Jets and the Giants are down at the bottom of the heap. In baseball the Mets led their division for the first two-thirds of the season then collapsed. The Yankees with all their home run power – Judge, Stanton, Sanchez and Gallo – couldn’t even fight their way past the wild-card, and our basketball teams, the Knicks and the Nets, are battling each other to keep from being the worst team in their league. Even our hockey team, the Islanders – in spite of their glorious history – are in last place.
New York City is the greatest city on earth, home of the United Nations, Broadway and Wall Street. For nearly a hundred years, it was the largest city in the world, with the tallest skyscrapers. And our sports teams were dominant in their respective fields. Carl Yastrzemski, a triple-crown baseball winner born and raised in Bridgehampton, is in the Hall of Fame. But that was in the 1960s. What has happened to these proud teams? No idea.
I’ve also been following the careers of two current baseball players who grew up on eastern Long Island. When they faced one another in a high school pitchers’ duel in Patchogue 12 years ago, 30 professional baseball scouts came to watch. Their fireballs led to a scoreless tie for eight innings. Finally, a run was scored. What became of them?
Both of them today are in the rotations of Major League teams and making millions of dollars a year, although neither of them seems destined for Cooperstown. Steven Matz of East Setauket was drafted by the Mets directly out of high school and pitched in the rotation for five years, then got traded to Toronto where last year he helped lead that team to a great run for the playoffs, which fell short. He had two wonderful outings in all that time, both complete games against the Yankees, where he struck out many and won the day. But he has a lifetime earned run average (ERA) of 4.24, not too terrific, and he is best known for leading the league in home runs allowed in the first inning of each game he starts. He has a great curveball, but reporters have observed that there’s too much losing control of his emotions before settling down. Matz is married and lives in Florida. Now he is off to the highly regarded St. Louis Cardinals, having just signed a $44 million four-year contract.
The other pitcher is Marcus Stroman of Medford. Stroman’s ERA overall is a respectable 3.63. After graduating Duke, he joined the Toronto Blue Jays for a time, then was traded to the Mets where, in the absence of Jacob deGrom, the Mets’ star pitcher who served much of last year on the disabled list, Stroman served as a bright light leading the Mets charge, such as it was, in the last third of the season. Tremendously focused, he is a pleasure to watch, especially since he’s only 5-foot-7-inches in a world where pitchers are almost all 6 feet or over. (Matz is 6 feet 2). A bachelor, Stroman is now off to the Chicago Cubs, a team that made the postseason last year, where he is reportedly getting $71 million for the next three years.
More about sports: Ever wonder what Rip Van Winkle would think about baseball or football if he now woke up from a sleep he began in 1990? Today, a hospital tent graces the sideline of each football field in the National Football League. In the old days, players hit each other as hard as they could. There were penalties for celebrating too much in the end zones. And Vince Lombardi, the great coach for the Green Bay Packers, got the Super Bowl trophy named for him. Today players from opposite teams help each other up and the players of whoever scores a touchdown celebrate with wild leaping chest bumps and arm waving, to no ill effect. Not yet but soon, I think Lombardi, who terrified his players into winning by demanding superhuman efforts, will be declared cruel and have his name taken off the trophy, thus ruining his chances in the afterlife.
In baseball, the big thing Rip Van Winkle will notice is that the outfield fences of the stadiums as built are considered too far from home plate, so now there are inner fences that could be hit over for a home run. It’s as if the stadiums were built a size too large by mistake. They will also see that the players still spit, but now instead of disgusting great gobs of chewing tobacco, some thinner substance, maybe sunflower seeds, that get emitted in little dainty bits. As for the great public roll around at the end of the game as the players celebrate a win, they’ve still got that going and now with the leaping chest bumps as in football.