Yo La Tengo guitarist/vocalist Ira Kaplan and So So Glos guitarist Adam Reich preview New York's perennial baseball underdogs
April is upon us and that means the return of Major League Baseball. To preview the new season, Billboard.com spoke to a panel of baseball fans from around the music world for a team-by-team preview of their favorite squads.
The musicians: Ira Kaplan is a founding member of Yo La Tengo, one of indie rock's most respected and longest running acts, who released their 13th and most recent album, "Fade," via longtime label Matador Records. They took their name from an anecdote from the Mets' disastrous first season in 1962. Venezuelan shortstop Elio Chacon was misplaying balls because he didn't understand English and missed his teammates calling for them. Outfielder Richie Ashburn learned to yell "I've got it!" in Spanish ("Yo la tengo!") which helped, until he was knocked over by English-speaking outfielder Frank Thomas.
Adam Reich plays guitar in the DIY-focused Brooklyn-based punk act, the So So Glos (who released a fantastic album called "Blowout" last year) as well as like-minded punks Titus Andronicus. Reich also runs the Brooklyn venue/rehearsal space Shea Stadium, named in honor of the Mets' former home.
The team: It's another rebuilding year for the Mets, though they appear to be headed in the right direction. To support their younger building blocks, the Mets spent big money on ex-Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson this offseason, looking for some much-needed power in a weak-hitting outfield. By the time ace pitcher Matt Harvey returns from rehabbing following Tommy John surgery sometime next year, the Mets might be finally ready to make a legitimate playoff push. In the meantime, fans are trying to stay optimistic as the frustration from five straight losing seasons.
Has the story surrounding your band's name (Yo La Tengo) ever gotten the attention from the players involved?
Ira Kaplan: I called Frank Thomas a few years ago for permission to use his baseball card on our website and he insisted, "That never happened."
What are your expectations for the 2014 Mets?
IK: It’s funny. I barely know who’s on the team at this point, like Keith Hernandez. I don’t start paying attention until opening day, but I try not to deal with expectations in any form… I’m still trying to figure out why they’d go with Dice-K (pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka) over Jenrry Mejia; someone on the downside instead of a 24-year-old who’s shown some promise, when he wasn’t injured. I was just reading about Wilmer Flores, this guy they sent down who hit something like .238, and they were touting him, 'Well, he got the job done at bat.' Huh? You look at other organizations, like the Cardinals, and they keep coming up with good position players. New York doesn’t necessarily demand a winner. I think they’d be excited about a young team playing to the peak of its ability and an organization making sensible moves in a straight line. New York is a sophisticated enough sports town to understand that process. The one thing you can say about the Mets ownership is at least they’re better than the Knicks.
How much closer do you think they are to being a playoff team this year?
Adam Reich: This year, they're still in the middle of a rebuilding process. But there are some players who are really talented, especially a few pitchers. I'm really excited to see some of these kids come up: Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero, Zach Wheeler, who was up for a little bit last year and showed a lot of promise. It's a real bummer that Matt Harvey is going to be out this year; he's definitely the crown jewel of the organization right now.
Without Harvey and a decent offense this year, I don't think their chances are all that great. But it will be exciting to watch a lot of these young players come up. I do think we're going to have a good team in the next year or two or three. I think this year is going to be the last year in a rebuilding phase, that's been going on since Sandy Alderson became general manager.
If the Mets can put up a .500 record I would consider it a success. It would really be beautiful if we could get there in 2016, the 30th anniversary of 1986."
What did you think about the Curtis Granderson signing?
AR: I think it's alright. If he hits about 25 home runs, about 85 RBIs and bats about .240 he'll be alright. He hit all those home runs in Yankee Stadium because of the short outfield porch; I don't think he'll be quite as good because Citi Field isn't tailored to how he hits. He strikes out a ton, but he walks a lot, and the Mets haven't had much power over the past few years. He can hit behind David Wright. He can be the kind of outfielder we thought Jason Bay could be before he was a total bust.
What do you think about the moves made by general manager Sandy Alderson?
AR: I think Alderson has done a really good job as general manager; all the trades he's made, we've gotten value. When we traded Carlos Beltran a couple years ago, we got Zach Wheeler. When we traded R.A. Dickey, we got Travis d'Arnaud and Syndergaard. Both players show a lot of promise, Syndergaard especially. He tore it up in the minors last year and all of a sudden he's the untradeable chip.
I think letting Jose Reyes go was really stupid. They didn't want to resign him, but it's really ironic now because it's the biggest hole in the team -- a shortstop who can lead off. We had the best one and we let it slip away. They had a lot of faith in Rubén Tejada, but it doesn't look like that's going to pan out.
Whose idea was it to name your venue Shea Stadium? What's the story behind that?
AR: We had just signed a lease on our space about two weeks after they demolished the original Shea Stadium. It was just kind of a goof in the beginning: "We should just call it Shea Stadium because Shea Stadium isn't around anymore! It will keep the tradition alive." And we never changed it. It's carrying on the tradition of a landmark that meant a lot to us, the city and a lot of tortured Mets fans.
How has being Mets fans shaped you and the rest of the So So Glos?
AR: All of us really have respect for the underdog [and] appreciate the small things. I think it sucks to be a Yankee fan in a lot of ways. If you don't win the World Series, you had a disappointing season. I can at least get excited when the Mets turn a nice double play!
Additional reporting by Roy Trakin (Ira Kaplan interview)
Check back with Billboard tomorrow, as "Play Ball" continues with New Found Glory bassist Ian Grushka discussing the Miami Marlins