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Just a Fool To Believe

With the birth of a new year upon us, I feel it necessary, once again, to both reintroduce and reinvent myself to fit the needs of the blogging community. Walk-offs have run (or walked) their course and it's time to focus on something new. You may recall that I dabbled in such a thought at this time last year, but my foolish pursuit to chronicle the history of Mets walks lasted merely one day.

I don't profess to be an expert in this blogging thing by any means, but I think it has been a worthwhile experience. About 22 months ago, I came across a blog that was very unique- PlunkBiggio, which is devoted to recording Craig Biggio's hit-by-pitch count. It is rare to find such a cleverly done "niche blog" and in thinking about it, I decided that my niche just isn't clever enough. To make a long story short, I have decided to retool my blog to focus not on walk-offs, but on chalk-offs. For those who don't understand the meaning, think of how a ball must be cleaned when it hits one of the foul lines and you'll understand the terminology.

In watching games for the last quarter century, it has become clear that the most interesting type of Mets play to watch/write about/talk about is a ball whose fair-foul fate is up in the air until the final moment of truth. Baseball is a game of inches and a chalk-off is a situation in which every inch is a vital one.

The Mets are a franchise that is well-known for making its fans suffer through torturous moments and there is nothing more torturous than the suspense in watching whether a ball will land on one side of the line, or the other. I chalk up (pardon the pun) my interest in such moments to one particular pivotal scenario in Mets history, which I'll get to in a moment.

Admittedly, chronicling these instances seems a bit excessive, but I think I can do it in an entertaining and informative fashion that you will enjoy.

There is much interesting knowledge to be gleaned from the fair/foul moments in Mets history. In just a few hours of work, I was able to study them in fascinating detail, to the point where I was able to compile a list of those most significant and memorable to the Flushing faithful. They include...

* Game 6 of the World Series and didja ever notice how important the chalk-off was to the Mets 10th inning rally. I'm referring to Ray Knight's at-bat, with two on and two out and the Mets trailing by two.

With one strike, Knight overswung at Calvin Schiraldi's next pitch. Before there was "a little roller up along first" there was "a little roller up along third." Wade Boggs charged, then elected to let the ball roll along the grass until it inched just enough to the right that it was no longer in play. Had Boggs picked the ball up, all runners would have been safe, but things would have been different. Bob Stanley's wild pitch would have scored not the tying run, but a tally after which the Red Sox would still have had a 5-4 lead.

And then perhaps, with the fate of clinching the World Series in his hands, John McNamara would have come to the realization that he needed a stellar defender at first base, and replaced Bill Buckner with Dave Stapleton. And then maybe Mookie Wilson's grounder is handled cleanly and the season comes down to a footrace between him and either Stanley or Stapleton. And then maybe things end a bit differently.

* The companion to the chalk-off is the "screen saver" and that's also an '86 reference, to the 14th inning of Game 6 of the NLCS when Billy Hatcher's deep drive down the left field line hit the netting just inside the fair pole for a game-tying home run, extending the classic Mets-Astros contest for another two frames. Another, more pleasant memory of such a wallop comes from 1969 and perhaps it was the sign of the times on July 25 when J.C. Martin's 8th-inning long drive nicked the screen for a go-ahead home run and an improbable victory over the Reds.

* Diehard 1986 fans may also remember a West Coast affair with the Dodgers on May 16, when an 11th inning Bill Russell squeeze bunt maneuvered its way along the third base line so deftly and the wishes of third baseman Ray Knight for the ball to trickle slightly to the right were unmet, giving the Dodgers the unlikely walk-off, chalk-off moment of glee and a victory. The Mets avenged this defeat, a mere blemish not unlike the blemish that baseball received upon its quest for glory.

* The importance of chalk-offs is certainly not lost on ex-Mets shortstop Bud Harrelson, whose first major-league home run came because he was the beneficiary of a chalk-off. Harrelson snapped a 4-4 8th inning tie against the Pirates on August 17, 1967 with a looping fly ball down the right field line. Pirates outfielder Al Luplow, improperly playing the role of umpire, deemed the ball foul and chose not to chase it down. Needless to say that Luplow was rather peeved when the ball was ruled to have landed fair and while he shared his displeasure with the men in blue, Harrelson came all the way around to score for the first of seven times in his big league career.

* Dave Chalk never played against the Mets, other than meaningless spring exhibitions, since the entirety of his career was spent in the American League. However, he did have two walk-off RBI in his career, giving new meaning to the term "Chalk-off."

* Former Met Lenny Randle may be the patron saint of the chalk-off for he understood its importance within the game. On May 28, 1981, Randle was playing third base for the Mariners against the Royals, when another ex-Met, Amos Otis, topped a grounder that hugged the third base line, along the Kingdome's artificial surface. Randle, in a moment of brilliance that seems to us to have been well within the rules, albeit not the spirit of the game, dropped to his hands and knees and used his breath to will the ball in the proper direction. Though the ball did eventually roll right, a protest by Royals management resulted in Otis being awarded first base.

''I didn't blow it,'' Randle told media afterwards. ''I used the power of suggestion. I yelled at it, 'Go foul, go foul.'"

* The radio broadcaster for the other New York team is clearly not a fan of the chalk-off, which for me is more reason to enjoy them. I've heard, on more than one occasion, John Sterling's calling of a "Line drive foul....twisting fair," a manipulation of physics that seems rather unlikely within this pastime, but one that pays tribute both to the eyesight and judgment needed to determine the 50-50 play that is the chalk-off.

As we commence a new season of work on this website, it seems only fair (pardon the pun, again) that I offer up a chance to readership to contribute to this blogging endeavor. So if you have a story to share about your favorite chalk-off, please feel free to do so here.

Oh, and let's peg this year's win total prediction at 85. Remember that I thought the Mets would win 86 games last season, and since our theme for 2007 is "Ya Gotta Get Worse," I have to live up to that with my pick.

Comments

Anonymous said…
This was very well done...you almost had me there. So is the prediction of 85 wins also something only fools should believe??

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Cliff Notes

Alright, so it's 2 days later and the challenge for me now, after reading through about a dozen game stories and listening to talk radio, is to provide a fresh perspective on walk-off #324. If you're going to be a serious reader of this blog, you know what happened already, so let's look at what made this particular walk-off stand out. It would seem that the place to start is with the idea that everything broke just right on both sides of the ball. Particularly, I'm talking about Carlos Beltran's catch in the 7th inning, where he went over the center field fence to rob Jose Molina of a home run. Every no-hitter seems to have one defensive gem that makes it possible and perhaps that's true of great walk-off moments as well (We'll be looking into that!) Marlon Anderson's home run required a remarkable combination of events. It was only the sixth inside-the-park home run at Shea Stadium by a Met and the first since Darryl Strawberry in 1989. It required t