On a dreary Tuesday afternoon, the New York Mets held another one of their "Citi Tuesdays" events, this time at the SNY Plaza on West 51st Street. "Citi Tuesdays" are a special promotion the Mets hold when the Mets play a home game on Tuesday nights.
For this event, they brought along former Mets ace Dwight Gooden and former Mets closer John Franco, in part to commemorate the Subway Series this week. Gooden and Franco sat down with Joe Beningo and Evan Roberts of WFAN before signing fan autographs. After their interviews on WFAN, Gooden and Franco both sat down with me for short interviews.
Q: There are two mindsets in baseball right now. One is in Texas where Nolan Ryan wants to push pitchers to a greater extent than they are right now. He thinks they're being babied. And in Washington, you saw what they did with Stephen Strasburg. They really babied him; they didn't push him at all. What mindset do you sympathize with and why?
A: I think the main thing for me is certainly the pitch counts and the innings limits on these guys are slowing down their progress. I think it does damage to the pitcher's progress than it does anything. If you go back when [the Yankees] had the Joba rules, I think it really messed up his career, and it was wrong. I'd like to see the pitchers pitch more innings and get the pitch counts up more.
Q: You've been following Matt Harvey extensively the last three months. What do you think allows him to excel to such a great extent?
A: I think it's his mound presence, what he brings to the mound every day, and his work ethic from what I hear. Reading the quotes from the pitching coach and players like David Wright, they say he's not just settling, he still wants to get better.
Q: Is there anything about him that you're worried about?
A: The way he's going now, not at all, because I think he's a great competitor, it seems like he'll take care of himself and he has a good work ethic.
Q: The Mets kind of tinkered with Jonathon Niese this offseason, to get him to "pitch to contact." The Mets did the same thing to you after 1985. Do you think it's a good thing for pitchers to be more contact oriented or a detriment to them?
A: I think it's a great thing. I think all they're trying to get him to do is, they talk about throwing to contact, it's basically being more aggressive in the strike zone as opposed to trying being too perfect with pitches. You want to try to make quality pitches and not worry too much about perfect pitches. If you get a quick out, making contact, it saves your pitch count and allows you to go deeper into games.
Q: You were a phenom pitching prospect and you had a great career. So many pitching prospects just flame out. What do you think makes pitching prospects, more than hitting prospects, so volatile?
A: I think a lot of times with that, when prospects, once they get to the majors, it could be the mental approach because you could have the physical ability and makeup to be a major league pitcher but a lot of guys, they become a lot more mental once they make it to the major league and they don't last as long as the hitters do.
Q: New York is obviously a really crazy media market and it shone a light on you, the good and the bad. How differently do you think your career would have gone had you played in a market like San Diego?
A: It would've been different, but me personally, I used to love the limelight. It brought the best out of me, the expectations from the media. I experienced that when I went to Cleveland even though I was towards the end of my career. I liked the added pressure.
Q: You closed out a ton of games but you also pitched in the eighth inning a lot. Was there a big difference in terms of how you prepared for and pitched the eighth as opposed to the ninth?
A: Well obviously when you come in the eighth inning you're setting up for the closer, so if you mess up, you know you have somebody behind you to come in and try and help you out. As a closer when you come in, the ninth inning is yours, and if you're out there, you're working with no net under you as we would say. You're walking the tight rope and you really have nobody to come in and help you if you get into trouble, so the eighth inning, if you get into a little trouble, you have that guy to come in there and help you out. I really never prepared differently. What I did was I used the eighth inning as my ninth inning and I tried to say "this is my ninth inning and get through this, then whoever the closer is, let him come in and do his job."
Q: When you closed out games, did you focus on the save statistic at all?
A: Well obviously when you're a closer, that's one of the statistics that you do get. It's like a starting pitcher; every starting pitcher cares about wins and losses. As a closer, you care about saves. Obviously the more saves you get, the better paycheck you'll get, you'll be recognized as one of the better players, you'll get a chance to make the All-Star team, and you'll get a chance to win a Rolaids relief award. There are some goals attached to being a closer and being the best that you can.
Q: How do you think reliever usage has changed since your career started in the mid-80s?
A: The starting pitching doesn't go as long as it had in the early ‘80s. Right now the game has changed where the starters go five, six innings and hand it over to the bullpen, so teams with really strong bullpens and guys who can come in the sixth, seventh, eighth, or ninth inning and hold those leads are the most successful teams right now. The game has changed from having your starters go deep into the game to now having your starters get you through five or six and hand it over to the bullpen.
Q: Would you say that's a good change or a bad change?
A: I think it's a bad change. For relievers, it's a good change because those middle relievers are getting higher paychecks and they're getting more notoriety. Before when those middle relievers came in, nobody knew about them, all you knew about was the starters and the closer. Now, you're getting to know those guys.
Q: Some Mets fans have commented in the past that Bobby Parnell, the current Mets closer, doesn't have the "closer's mentality." Do you think there's anything to that concept?
A: Well, what do they consider closer's mentality?
Q: I don't know what they're referring to.
A: The closer's mentality is me. If you get three guys out, that's a closer. You can close out a game. Bobby Parnell is going to be one of the top-notch closers in this league in years to come. He's proven it towards the end of last year and this year he's gotten off to a tremendous start. He's learning how to pitch and he's getting better and better. You can't teach 98 mph, but you can teach him how to pitch, and Bobby has learned and he has progressed from last year to this year and he's going to be one of the top relievers in this game.
Q: What are your thoughts on interleague play in its 16th season? Do you think it's played out at all?
A: I think it's played out a little bit. The first couple of years it was great when we played three games at Yankee Stadium and then the following year we played three games at Shea Stadium. I wish they would just go back to the old format where they played three games a year and that's it. It's a little played out, but the fans still like it and you want to please the fans.