Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A plague of pain

They have fallen like dominoes in the first three months of the baseball season, as if someone stuck pins in voodoo dolls bearing their likenesses.

The New York Mets thought they had everything figured out. While the Yankees spent nearly $200 million on free agents like CC Sabathia, Mark Teixiera, & AJ Burnett, the Mets refortified their bullpen by bringing in JJ Putz and Francisco Rodriguez. Everything was going just fine, until the injury bug bit. Over and over again. Putz is gone until the latter part of August, maybe September. Two of their starters, Oliver Perez & John Maine, are also out, though Perez might be back by the All-Star break. Three of their core players, outfielder Carlos Beltran, shortstop Jose Reyes, & first baseman Carlos Delgado, are also on the disabled list. Delgado is also due in either August or September. Beltran and Reyes? Maybe by the end of July, but who really knows for sure.

The common link is that with the exception of Maine, all of the front-line injuries the Mets have suffered can be traced to their participation in the World Baseball Classic back in March. In fact, Rodriguez, the record-setting closer who came over from the Angels as a free agent, is the only Met who hasn't been injured since returning from the WBC. He had back spasms that sidelined him for a day or two, and that's been it.

This rash of injuries has forced the Mets into a very precarious position. Their current 5-game losing streak has put them two games below .500 for the season, but they're still just three games off the lead in the National League East, largely because the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies haven't been the dominant force they were at the end of last season. Philadelphia hasn't gone on a major tear yet to open some distance between them and the rest of the division, and if the season were to end now, they'd be a #3 seed in the playoffs. The Mets are fortunate to find themselves within striking distance, but if all the injuries hadn't been so close together, maybe the Mets are the ones clinging to the top of the division. Or maybe not.

But with the Mets now resembling a M*A*S*H unit, management has strangely been hesitant about trading for some help. Prized rookie Fernando Martinez has been a disappointment since being called up, rushed before he was really ready to face major league pitching. Aside from Rodriguez, the bullpen has run into the same exact problem that has killed them late in the season the last two years, and that's overuse. Pedro Feliciano leads the league in appearances, and reportedly is on a pace to pitch in 100 games, which would be a record for relievers, I think. Jerry Manuel has fallen into the same trap with his pen as all managers usually do. He has a set pattern of which relievers to use depending on if the Mets are winning or losing. If they're winning he has his bridge to K-Rod, the brilliant closer, although Rodriguez has proven to be quite mortal of late, as two of his three losses have come against the Yankees. If those bullpen arms are already tiring at the end of June, they're almost certainly dead in the water come September.

By then, though, Putz should be back, and possibly also Billy Wagner, the forgotten man who was lost last season when he underwent Tommy John surgery. Wagner is due in August at the earliest, and could be a big help in the stretch run. The Mets certainly can use him. By then, the rest of the wounded should be back, but will they be at full strength after all? At this rate, the Mets might need to invest in some rosary beads or have group prayer meetings before games to turn their fortunes around.

Above all else, Manuel cannot be the fall guy if the Mets fail to make the post-season. You can't prepare for injuries, after all. You try to work around them, but if too many fall at once, as the case has been, then the mountain only becomes a longer, steeper climb.

Monday, June 29, 2009

An Old Nut Too Tough to Crack

Let me just get it right out in the open.

Vince McMahon just doesn't get it. He doesn't want to get it, and that may hurt him in the long term.

Two months away from his 64th birthday, McMahon, the chairman of World Wrestling Entertainment, is up to his old tricks, putting himself on television and picking fights where none actually exist, in a deluded effort to increase ratings. During the last two weeks, McMahon had viewers  thinking he was selling his flagship franchise, Monday Night Raw, to fellow millionaire Donald Trump, only to "buy it back". Having Trump appear in person in Green Bay on June 22 did wonders for the ratings, sure, but it's a 1-week boost, and, with his ego similarly boosted by the deluded notion that he and not Trump should be credited with that spike in the ratings, McMahon has decided to make a public nuisance of himself again, appearing on both Raw & Friday Night Smackdown.

It's a tired act. After the infamous "Montreal Screwjob" that sent Bret Hart out of the then-WWF in 1997, McMahon engaged in a lengthy feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin that is credited with having turned the company's fortunes around in the "Monday Night Wars" over ratings with WCW. After that storyline had run its course, McMahon has tried time and again to recapture that same vibe, but with decreasing results. To wit:

2003: Hulk Hogan is activated from the injured list for a Smackdown episode in Albany. McMahon returns on the same show to start a feud with the legendary former champion, now well past his prime. The two clash at Wrestlemania, with Hogan winning. McMahon, ever a sore loser, decides to "suspend" Hogan, who returns a month later as a masked wrestler. Hogan is cut loose in July.

That should've been the end of it, but it wasn't. McMahon turned his attention to his daughter, Stephanie, the "General Manager" of Smackdown. Believing that Stephanie wasn't doing things the way he'd have wanted, McMahon culminates a lengthy campaign of undermining her authority by defeating her at the No Mercy pay-per-view. This was to allow Stephanie to leave so she could get married. The Undertaker was next, and he was sent off on a winter vacation just a month later. McMahon, satisfied with his handiwork, faded from view soon after.

December 2005-September 2006: McMahon picks a fight with the other participant in the "Montreal Screwjob", Shawn Michaels. Predictably, after getting the upper hand early, McMahon loses at Wrestlemania, but then presses forward, unwilling to accept defeat. This leads to Triple H, then the arch-villain, turning on McMahon and his pet lackeys, the Spirit Squad, and reforming DeGeneration X with Michaels.

2007: McMahon and Donald Trump make appearances on The Apprentice & Raw, respectively, in order to boost ratings for both shows, per a dictum from NBC-Universal, which owns USA Network, home of Raw. McMahon loses his hair at---where else?---Wrestlemania, when Bobby Lashley defeats Umaga. Incensed and unable to avenge himself on Trump, McMahon goes after Lashley and cheats him out of the ECW title, only to lose it back to Lashley 6 weeks later. During this feud, McMahon relies too heavily on his son, Shane, and on Umaga, as he is clearly unable to actually fight his own battles.

In each feud, McMahon has grown progressively more insane in his on-air character, more delusional. And now, it is Trump again that has triggered a run of McEgomania.

On the June 26 Smackdown, McMahon told the current GM, Teddy Long, that he was "on probation". There was no rhyme or reason for him to single out Long, but then again, McMahon is only interested in getting as much TV time as possible. As long as he believes he is the one who is bringing in the ratings, Vince McMahon will remain a constant, annoying presence that needs to go away. He will be 64 in 2 months. He is not the creative genius he once was. He presents himself to his audience as a prematurely senile executive with delusions of grandeur that can easily be rejiggered into a descent into dementia. The right thing to do is to finally admit it's over and step aside, let the kids take over. But he won't. And it may hurt the company in the long term. And it will be his fault, and no one else's.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Greetings!!

Welcome to my corner of the blogosphere. Here, we'll talk about movies, TV, sports, pro wrestling, etc. There isn't much that is, well, taboo. Come on in, the water's fine, if you will.