No Defense For Jose Mesa

Allow me to begin by saying that I am a man of many contradictions. One of which is my feeling for Jose "Joe Table" Mesa. On the one hand, I love the guy like you would a crazy uncle, but on the other, I despise him for playing his role in keeping the Phillies down over his years with the club. Unfortunately, the latter feeling tends to override the love, but I really don't think I'm the only person in this city that feels that way.

If you're looking for a visual to accurately depict Table's tenure as closer with the Phils, think back to that image of Curt Schilling circa 1993, sitting on the bench with the towel over his eyes as Mitch Williams tries his best to live up to his nickname. Speaking of Mitch, for the record, he did deserve blame for that Joe Carter home run that is forever ingrained in my retinas. He was not burned out by October, at least not too burned out to go 2-0 with a 1.69 ERA and 2 saves in five plus innings pitched in the NLCS. However, to be fair, John Kruk should get some crap for the ending of that game six ending as well. Had he sat on Carter's head for jumping around the base path like a goon after the ball went out like he should have, I would not be nearly as bitter as I am today.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, Joey Table. The story of the Phillies' all-time saves leader (a title he really doesn't deserve, but we'll get to that in a bit) begins with his acquisition before the 2001 season, as you all know. To the surprise of many, including myself, Mesa came through with a great season and really seemed to nail down what had been a trouble spot for the team for too many years. There really isn't anything bad to be said about Mesa's '01 season. He only blew four saves; his ERA and WHIP both looked good, and had just three losses to his credit. After proving his detractors wrong a first time, many backed off Mesa and became more accepting of him. However, upon further inspection, it was clear that this was a final hoorah for a man nearing the end of his career. At 35 years old, there was just no possible way that this could be a continuing trend, right?

As it turns out, that was right. In 2002, the real Jose began to emerge. Though his ERA still wasn't bad, the WHIP inflated, and his loss total doubled. The fact that he compiled 45 saves, even more than he did the previous year despite blowing nine opportunities, can boggle the mind. The only explanation for this is that, unlike now, the Phils had as much talent in the bullpen as the Easter Island national team. Had there been a serviceable backup in place, there is no way Jose (pun intended) could have amassed such a high save total, and thus would not have become the Phillies' all-time saves leader. If that backup were in place, it was also be reasonable to assume that he, not Table, would have begun the 2003 season as closer. This would have rendered Mesa utterly useless because, as we all know, he magically turns into a batting practice pitcher when his precious save is not on the line. Put him in a tie game, down by one, or up four, and it's just about guaranteed that the Phils will lose with Mesa having a helping hand in it.

Unfortunately, my hypothetical backup plan was not in place in 2002, or 2003 for that matter, leaving Jose to compile even more saves than deserved. In fact, Mesa's devolution with the Phils followed the same path as what he did with the Indians. He took over the job there in '95, had a great regular season, hit mediocrity in '96, then finally collapsed in '97 with just 16 saves and a World Series that made Indians fans think about how much a lobotomy would cost.

To say that the fans and their booing played a role in Mesa's collapse would be false in my opinion. Just looking at the guy as he tries to work through trouble will tell you that he is his own worst enemy. I'd be willing to bet that all the voices yelling at him from inside his head pretty much drowned out the ones booing from the stands.

All that was just the on the field stuff though. Off the field is where Jose displayed his true chemically imbalanced self. In the locker room, Mesa refused to talk to reporters unless they spoke Spanish. That's actually a bigger deal than it may sound, I mean, even Barry Bonds, a man who truly despises the media, at least gives a few sound bites every day (well, most days). Then there was the time he threatened to kill Omar Vizquel for saying something bad about him in a book. This was not you friendly "Oh you little rascal, I'll get you!" No, the look in Mesa's eye when he said this told you he was serious as a heart attack. These are just a couple examples of how it's amazing Jose wasn't involved in messing up the team chemistry through off the field distractions.

Despite all these mistakes and problems, I really do like the guy a lot. Just so long as he stays far away from the Phillies' roster. How can you not love a guy with such a magnificent goatee and bright blue baseball glove? Plus, Table has about 90 children, many of which would dominate in the player's kid's game they do every year. And who could forget his one son in those commercials a couple years back? They were classic. I wonder if the Phils could retain the rights to that kid even though his dad is with the Pirates? His acting skills alone would make him a valuable asset for the club.

In conclusion, does Jose Mesa deserve the battery treatment that J.D. Drew got when he returned to Philly? Certainly not. But not so much because his situation wasn't as ugly as Drew's, or that throwing batteries is a terrible thing to do, it's just that Jose would most definitely leave the field and track you down as if you were Omar Vizquel.

This article is in response to a previous article written by Eddie Connor, In Defense of Jose Mesa.

Why not read both articles and then weigh in with your thoughts on our Ashburn Alley Message Board?

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