Winning the World Series as a Yankee, or Not

The player who has the most World Series titles without getting one as a Yankee is Eddie Collins, six, three with the A’s, then one with the White Sox, and two back with the A’s. There are 12 players ahead of Collins in titles won, led by Yogi Berra with his 10 titles. Almost all of the 12 won all their titles as Yankees during the ’30s through the ’50s.

Right behind Collins with five titles, none as a Yankee, are Del Maxvill (Cardinals and A’s), Jack Barry (A’s and Red Sox), and Stuffy McInnis (A’s and Red Sox and Pirates). Reggie Jackson, Ken Holtzman, and Catfish Hunter all won five titles in the ’70s, the first three with the A’s, then two with the Yankees.

DiMaggio, with 9 World Series won in 13 seasons, has the highest percentage of titles to seasons played that I know of for any player with more than a couple titles. Fifty-five players have won at least five Series; Arndt Jorgens, Bill Dickey’s backup on the ’30s Yankees, and the last Norway-born MLB player, is the only one who did it without playing in a single Series.

Published in: Uncategorized on December 22, 2013 at 1:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

Some Stats on Triples Hit by Older Players

Here is a list of the MLB players with the most triples in their careers, including and after their age 37 seasons:
1. Honus Wagner, 76
2. Sam Rice, 71
3. Jake Daubert, 53
4. Cap Anson, 46
5. Joe Start, 39
6. Ty Cobb, 38
7. Jim O’Rourke, 35
8. Deacon White, 32
9. Rabbit Maranville, 31
10. Steve Finley, 30
Kenny Lofton, 30

A few all-time greats and nine players from MLB’s earlier years, but at the bottom, two stars who recently retired.

The 12 hitters with at least 10 triples in their age 37 seasons:
1. Honus Wagner, 16, 1911
2. Sam Rice, 14, 1927
Zack Wheat, 14, 1925
4. Dummy Hoy, 13, 1899
5. Jake Daubert, 12, 1921
6. Kiki Cuyler, 11, 1936
7. Jake Beckley, 10, 1905
Max Carey, 10, 1927
Charlie Carr, 10, 1914
Ty Cobb, 10, 1924
Rabbit Maranville, 10, 1929
Ollie Pickering, 10, 1907

Two who had at least 12 triples in their age 41 seasons:
1. Honus Wagner, 17, 1915
2. Steve Finley, 12, 2006

Honus was either very fast in his later years or still had a lot of power to hit so many triples.

Those who had at least two triples in a season when they were 43 or older:
1. Cap Anson, 6, 1895
2. Luke Appling, 4, 1950
3. Cap Anson, 3, 1897
Julio Franco, 3, 2004
Sam Rice, 3, 1933
6. Cap Anson, 2, 1896
Julio Franco, 2, 2003
Pete Rose, 2, 1984
Pete Rose, 2, 1986
Pete Rose, 2, 1985

And those who had the most cumulative triples, including and after their age 43 seasons:
1. Cap Anson, 11
2. Julio Franco, 7
3. Pete Rose, 6
4. Luke Appling, 4
Sam Rice, 4
6. Omar Vizquel, 3
7. Nick Altrock, 1
Carlton Fisk, 1
Rickey Henderson, 1
Tony Perez, 1
Joe Start, 1
Sam Thompson, 1
Honus Wagner, 1
Cy Young, 1

Again, these last two lists show quite a few players from the ’80s onward. Maybe that tells you players are in better shape than they used to be. The big surprises on this last list: Appling, Altrock, who I thought was mainly a clown of the pre-WWII days, Fisk, Perez, and of course Young, who hit 35 triples in his career and had six seasons with at least three triples.

Published in: Uncategorized on December 12, 2013 at 11:01 am  Leave a Comment  

Which is the Best Minor League?

I haven’t been to a minor league ball game in years, so have no opinion on the subject, but perhaps some people out there have seen enough games in the minors to have one. So, my question is: Which is the best minor league in MiLB today? Taking into account the quality of the teams, the cities, the ballparks, the general experience of going to a game. I guess some fans prefer the AAA leagues because the caliber of play is higher, and you’ll see many ex- and future major leaguers on the field. Others prefer rookie or low-A ball because of the intimacy of the experience and the chance to watch undeveloped players: the chance to think of yourself as a scout, watching players close up and making first-hand, unfiltered judgments of how good they are. And in low-A ball, there’s the lottery-like chance of seeing a future Hall of Famer play his first few games as a pro.

I think one of the appeals of going to a minor league game could be the chance to watch a game without all the noise (literal and figurative) that’s associated with a big league game. I imagine it’s much easier to focus on what’s happening on the field in a minor league game, where there’s not a huge tv screen behind the bleachers.

Published in: Uncategorized on December 7, 2013 at 2:04 pm  Comments (1)  

Some Thoughts on the Bitcoin Currency and Analogies With Baseball Memorabilia

For those who haven’t heard of it, Bitcoin is a private, digital currency generated by a software program and obtained (although “mined” is the preferred term) by solving complex mathematical problems. There are currently about 11 million bitcoins in circulation, and the limit on the total number of bitcoins that will ever be circulated is apparently 21 million. Bitcoins began to be issued at the start of 2009. They exist as a public database: as the New Yorker explains, in the database, “The chain of ownership of every bitcoin in circulation is verified and registered with a timestamp on all twenty thousand network nodes. This prevents double spending, since no coin can be exchanged without the authentication of some twenty thousand independent cyber-witnesses.”

The value of a bitcoin has soared in recent weeks, to more than $1,000, and people are increasingly speculating on whether Bitcoin or some other form(s) of private currency will emerge as a widely used alternative to government-issued currency. One problem with that possibility is that the value assigned to bitcoins has swung wildly in the five years of Bitcoin’s existence. On the whole, it has been very lucrative to simply hold onto the bitcoins you have rather than spend them, but there have also been periods of the value of a bitcoin dropping 50 percent or more. This doesn’t sound like a reliable currency: it sounds more like, for example, the market for a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle baseball card during the 1980s, in that there is no consistent, long-term standard for what either the card or a bitcoin is worth. Just as it was extremely lucrative to buy that Mantle card in 1980 and sell it in 1990, it was extremely lucrative to buy a bitcoin in 2010 and sell it in fall 2013.

Until you feel secure in spending bitcoins on something like a ticket to a baseball game that will be played five months from now: that is, using it as a currency that you can trust will maintain a fairly steady value in coming months and years, Bitcoin will not really function as a currency. Instead, the Bitcoin market will be a vehicle for speculation and idiosyncratic personal interest, similar to the market in sports memorabilia, or fantasy sports.

At the same time, some people have attacked the Bitcoin currency because of the difficulty of determining what a bitcoin is worth, the idea that bitcoins are given an arbitrary value, that they represent nothing of evident value, have no utility, and you can’t use them for anything. I think they miss the point. There are all sorts of objects that meet this definition, including, in the realm of sports, baseball cards, autographs, ticket stubs, and broadcasts of games, none of which have real utility, and lack any obvious tangible value or use. You cannot do anything with a Joe DiMaggio autograph but look at it and handle the object that holds the autograph. In fact, throwing around a DiMaggio-signed baseball will only decrease its value, by smearing the signature, getting dirt or water on the ball, or losing the ball by throwing it into the street.

The value of a bitcoin, like the value of sports memorabilia, is based on the fact that people assign values to things that they can’t do anything with. This is also true of government-issued currencies: the only thing you can do with a normal $100 bill is buy something: the bill’s merit comes from the ability to use it as a means of exchange and an indication of value. If the United States ceased to exist, the $100 bill would probably become worthless. That’s what happened to Confederate bills after the Civil War.

We’re already very accustomed to using purely digital forms of private money, like gift cards, coupons, credits used within games like Farmville, and credit cards and other forms of loans. As far as I can tell, Bitcoin is really just an attempt to establish a privately-issued digital currency that has universal application, instead of the limited application of these other private forms of money.

The question “Is a bitcoin worth $1,000?” is like the question “Is a year of Justin Verlander’s services to the Detroit Tigers worth $20 million?” in that there is no objective correct and permanent answer. There are all sorts of reasons to say no to both questions. Clearly, you can use the $1,000 or $20 million to do more vital things, like feed, clothe, and house people. But right now, enough people are giving a yes answer to both questions to say that yes, right now we can assign those values to a bitcoin and to Justin Verlander’s 2014 services.

Published in: Uncategorized on November 29, 2013 at 2:17 pm  Comments (1)  
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Reactions to Greg Halman’s Death Two Years Ago

Here, from the Seattle Times on November 21, 2011, are some quotes from people responding to the death of Seattle Mariners outfielder Greg Halman, 24, who’d just been stabbed to death in Rotterdam, Netherlands, by his brother.

Mariners pitcher Dan Cortes: “It just ripped my heart out, man. It was just a blow to my gut. He was like a big brother to me. It just worked out that way. The way we joked around, helped each other out. I’ve just been pacing around here not knowing what I’m doing. I can’t even eat right now. I can’t do anything. I’m just sitting around and waiting to see if I hear anything more. I’m just devastated.”

Mariners catcher Miguel Olivo: “I remember him from my first time with the Mariners when he was still just a baby. No, no. This is terrible news. He was a great kid. A great baseball player. Everybody loved him. He was just one of the guys. He was a great, young kid. In a couple of years, he would have been a great player.”

Free-agent infielder Adam Kennedy: “A lot of us older guys got to know him real well because he was one of those younger guys who was eager to listen and eager to learn. I don’t know whether they’re shy about it or what, but he was just one of the guys. He seemed happy all the time and was just a fun guy to be around. This is just devastating news.”

Mariners manager Eric Wedge: “I only knew Greg for a brief time, but I feel lucky that I had the chance to get to know him. He was a fine young man with a bright future. Greg had a tremendous energy about him, both on and off the field, that I loved. This is just tragic. That’s all I can think, that this is so tragic and sad.”

Mike Nicotera, Halman’s agent: “When I think of Greg, I think of a big smile, energetic, full of life, joking around, faithful. He was a very faithful kid. It’s just hard for me to wrap my head around. It will take a long time to wrap my head around it. It’s difficult for me to even talk about Greg in the past tense.

“He was a man of faith. A man who believed in prayer and taking care of his family. We talked a number of times about him being able to help his family out and to get them into a better situation than he grew up in He wanted better things for his family, and he was going to work to get them.

“I had no doubts Greg could be an impact-type player. He was young and developing, and never one that shied away from working at it. God gave him a lot of gifts, and he was trying to maximize those. It’s just so sad.”

Former Mariners outfielder Mike Cameron, who had dinner with Halman during spring training in 2009: “He had seen me playing in Seattle, and he even had a pair of my old shoes they had given him. He didn’t wear them; he kept them in a box in his room. It’s kind of crazy how you touch people and you don’t even know it.

“He was a little bigger than me, but he was kind of on the same career path, coming up through the minor leagues. We had a good talk, and the next thing I know, I saw him in the major leagues. He had struggled really bad one year. I kind of told him, ‘Your talent is always going to be there. It’s going to be about how you put it together mentally and how you approach it.’ It was good to see he had a chance to put it all together. I think he was about to come into his own as a player. He was very spirited and high strung — real spirited about what he was doing. It’s so crazy what happened.”

Aaron Artman, Tacoma Rainiers president: “Greg was a huge part of the Rainiers during his time here in Tacoma, and played a pivotal role — on the field — in our run to the 2010 Pacific Coast League championship. But far more important than what he did on the field, was his personality off the field.

“He had a huge smile on his face, every day, and his enthusiasm was infectious. He just had a way about him that made our front office staff and fans see a guy who clearly loved what he was doing. We miss Greg, already, and our prayers go out to his family, friends, teammates and the Mariners organization.”

Given how quickly people fade from memory, and how infrequently Halman’s name comes up now, I wanted to present the above quotes to remind people who Halman was and what happened to him, two years now after he died.

Published in: Uncategorized on November 20, 2013 at 7:38 pm  Comments (1)  
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Will There Ever Be Another True Two-Way MLB Player?

A while ago this blog looked at men who have taken on both the player and manager roles at the same time. I think people rarely even think of the possibility of the player-manager role returning to MLB, but we’ve recently seen Micah Owings and Rick Ankiel switch out of their pitching roles to become position players. But neither the Cardinals nor the Diamondbacks tried to have Ankiel or Owings serve as pinch-hitters, much less first basemen or outfielders, in between their starts. First they failed to make it as pitchers, and then their teams tried to convert them to position players. Are we going to see any team do this-not having a pitcher serve as an emergency pinch-hitter in an 18-inning game, but reliably using him as a pinch-hitter during the regular season?

A while ago, I read on Bill James’ website James saying: “I think the last real two-way player in the majors was Hal Jeffcoat in the 50s. In the 60s there were a couple of players who made it to the majors as pitchers and then converted to position players at the major league level, Willie Smith and Bobby Darwin.”

A couple reasons for the disappearance of the true two-way player come to mind: baseball has become more and more specialized over the decades. Think of relief pitchers, platoons, defensive replacements, catchers paired with a specific starter, and, of course, the ever-growing use of advanced statistics to attempt to gain an advantage in a given pitcher-hitter matchup. Second, the salaries paid to players have gone up so much that teams seem less and less inclined to take risks with their starting pitchers in particular. Why risk losing your no. 2 starter to a hit-by-pitch, a foul ball off his foot, or a muscle strain from him, as a pinch-hitter, trying to power out a homer to win a game in the late innings?

Owings is the last starting pitcher I know of (does Carlos Zambrano qualify?) who was such a good hitter that you could readily envision his team using him as its primary pinch-hitter, or even as a late-game first baseman. The Diamondbacks weren’t interested, so fans lost an opportunity to see a revival of a strategy that was not at all unusual in MLB’s early decades.

Published in: Uncategorized on November 13, 2013 at 3:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

Some Notes on Jimmie Foxx’s Brilliance

I’m not sure why Jimmie Foxx is not recalled more often when people think about great sluggers of the past; he is rightly overshadowed by Ruth, Gehrig, and Williams, but those are the only three players whose careers overlapped with his and were better hitters. His name seems to pop up more often as the inspiration for the Tom Hanks character in A League of Their Own than as one of the strongest and most powerful and most exceptional hitters ever.

Here are a few statistics to consider about Foxx, whose career as a full-time player was just 14 years, 1928 through 1941, with a few partial seasons before 1928, a bit more than half-seasons in ‘42 and ‘45, when he also pitched quite well in nine games, and 22 at-bats in ‘44.

He: led the A.L. in slugging percentage five times, in OPS in the same five years, in on-base percentage three times, in homers four times, and in batting average twice. He hit 484 homers in 12 years, 1929 through 1940, or just over 40 homers per year. In those 12 years, Foxx’s RBI count didn’t go under 105, went over 150 four times, and went over 160 three times. He had 1745 RBIs in 1898 games from 1929 through 1941. Over those 13 years, he had 1312 walks, compared to 1136 strikeouts (Foxx led the A.L. in Ks seven times, ranging from 66 to 119). He scored 1560 runs in the 13 years. Foxx got on base 300+ times in four different seasons, and also had seasons of 286, 283, 291, and 299 times on base.

At the age of 17, in 1925, he went 6-9 with a double and one strikeout in 10 games.

He won the batting Triple Crown, was a three-time MVP, is 10th alltime in OBP, 4th in slugging percentage, 5th in OPS, 20th in total bases, 9th in RBIs, 23rd in walks, 112th in Ks, 16th in extra-base hits, and 38th in times on base. Foxx did this despite being 102nd in games played, 131st in at-bats, and 101st in plate appearances.

Foxx was, for a while, the youngest hitter to reach 100, 200, 300, 400, and 500 homers. His 415 homers in the ‘30s led the majors.

Despite all this, from 1947 through 1950 Foxx appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot without getting elected: when he was elected in 1951, it was with only 79.2% of votes.

Foxx played 1 game at shortstop, 10 in right field, 12 in left field, 10 as pitcher, 108 at catcher, 141 at third, and 1919 at first.

It’s hard to escape from what-if games when glancing through old baseball statistics. One of them: Ted Williams came up in 1939, and for a few years he and a slowly fading Foxx were paired in the Red Sox lineup. If Williams had been a few years younger and, like Joe DiMaggio, made the trip from California to the Northeast in 1936, would he and Foxx have combined to help Boston steal the pennant away from the Yankees once or twice in the late ‘30s? Foxx drove in 175 in 149 games in 1938; it’s easy to envision perhaps a 200-RBI season with Williams batting in front of Foxx. As it was, Foxx won the MVP in ‘38 and Boston went 88-61, then went 89-62 in ‘39, and finished 2nd in ‘41 and ‘42.

A second one: what if Connie Mack had more resources and did a slightly better job operating the Philadelphia A’s from 1927 through 1935, Foxx’s last season with the A’s? The team went 596-321 from ‘27 through ‘32, finishing far behind great Yankee teams in ‘27 and ‘32, but nearly won the pennant four years in a row, ‘28 through ‘31. Then it declined in 1933 and went off the cliff the next two years as Mack cut payroll and raised cash by selling off players. In 1936, all the dynasty’s stars were gone. If we envision Mack with revenue sources close to those of the Yankees, would the A’s of ’27 through ’35 be remembered not as a three-year dynasty but as a team that won the pennant more like five or six times and surpassed the Yankees as the best team in this 9-year stretch?

Published in: Uncategorized on November 6, 2013 at 11:57 am  Comments (1)  
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Some Lou Gehrig Statistics

Thoughts of Lou Gehrig inevitably turn first to his disease and his farewell speech in 1939, and then to his 2,130 consecutive games played streak. This post instead highlights a few of the notable and spectacular statistics from his career.

Gehrig had more than 150 RBIs in seven different seasons, including three seasons above 170 RBIs. He hit at least 10 triples in nine different seasons, peaking at a league-leading 20 in 1926. Gehrig even had 6 triples in his last full season, 1938. He drew more than 100 walks in 11 different seasons, with an average of 130 from 1935 through 1937, and led the A.L. in times on base in six different seasons. 1190 of his 2721 hits were for extra bases, or 43.7 percent. (This compares to Ruth’s 1356 out of 2873 hits, or 47.2 percent).

In his triple crown year, 1934, Gehrig finished fifth (although it was a close fifth) in the MVP balloting. His Yankee teams swept the World Series four times, and Gehrig’s 6-1 Series record compares to Ruth’s 4-3 Series record as a Yankee. Gehrig, still in his prime, received 22.6 percent of votes on the Hall of Fame ballot in 1936. He, not Ruth, was the A.L. MVP in 1927.

Gehrig scored and drove in more than 100 runs in each season from 1926 through 1938, a 13-year span in which he averaged .95 RBIs per game and .90 runs scored per game. During those 13 years, his OBP did not drop below .400. In his first two seasons, 1923 and 1924, Gehrig played 23 games and hit .447, with a .711 slugging percentage. It’s no surprise then that he was made a starter in 1925.

Published in: Uncategorized on October 29, 2013 at 10:27 am  Leave a Comment  

The Cardinals and Dodgers in the 1985 NLCS

This matchup featured two of the most memorable postseason homers of the ‘80s. Ozzie Smith’s to win game 5 in St. Louis is more famous, perhaps simply because of Jack Buck’s call of it, but Jack Clark’s in L.A. to turn a 5-4 ninth inning deficit into a 7-5 lead won the series for the Cardinals. Here, from the Sacramento Bee, is a story covering Clark’s homer:

The home run began to rise and appeared destined to leave Greater Los Angeles. Pedro Guerrero, the Dodgers left fielder, took only one step to chase. He stopped, dropped to his knees, hunched over.

‘It was from the pain in my heart,’ Guerrero said.

Launching the baseball into one magnificent arc Wednesday afternoon, Jack Clark sent the Dodgers to their knees and the Cardinals to Cloud Nine, commonly known as the 1985 World Series.

The scorebook will list it as a Clark three-run home run in the ninth inning off Tom Niedenfuer, giving the Cardinals a 7-5 victory in Game Six of the National League Championship Series….

‘Before the playoffs began, people said, ‘As Tom Niedenfuer goes, the Dodgers will win or lose’,’ Niedenfuer said. ‘I didn’t do my job. I feel responsible for the Dodgers losing.’

The Cardinals won the last three games without the major-league’s best base stealer, Vince Coleman. They scored 22 runs without Coleman.

‘I don’t know where you guys (media) have been,’ said center fielder Willie McGee. ‘We have been doing this all year. It’s just that no one noticed.’

Most of all, the 1985 NL playoffs will have one imprint on it – Jack Clark majestically meeting baseball with bat on Oct. 16 the darkening afternoon.

‘It felt like the gold medal,’ Clark said.

It felt like tin to Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, who decided to pitch to Clark with first base open.

‘After he hit the homer, everybody in the world knew we should have walked him,’ Lasorda said. ‘After he hit it, even my mother knew we should have walked him. I’m going to go now and jump off a bridge. That’s what I ought to do.’

The game came to Clark with enough emotion of its own. The Dodgers opened with single runs in the first and second innings off Cardinals starter Joaquin Andujar. The first was an RBI single from Bill Madlock, playing with a possible broken thumb.

The Cardinals moved within one run when Andujar of all people doubled off L.A. starter Orel Hershiser and scored on Tommy Herr’s single in the third.

The Dodgers went ahead, 4-1 in the fifth, when Madlock whacked a two-run homer. Mariano Duncan scored ahead of Madlock – but only because Andujar lost Duncan’s grounder in the sun for an error.

In the seventh, the Cardinals made their first real statement of the game. They tied the game with three runs, chasing Hershiser. Willie McGee had a two-run single. Ozzie Smith – the playoff MVP who had won Game Five with a ninth-inning homer off Niedenfuer – smoked a triple off the right-hander to score the tying run.

Then, just as courageously, the Dodgers went ahead, 5-4, when Mike Marshall lofted – and it was a real loft – a ball over the glove of Cardinal right fielder Andy Van Slyke and over the fence for a home run. ‘I gave the team a one-run lead with three outs to go,’ Marshall said. ‘But the Cardinals had the top of their order coming and you never know what’s going to happen.’

Niedenfuer struck out his first batter, pinch-hitter Cesar Cedeno. McGee singled to left and stole second base. Smith walked. Herr then moved over both runners with a ground out, pitcher-to-first.

Up stepped Clark, the only bona fide home run threat on the Cardinals. First base was open. Van Slyke, an .091 hitter in the playoffs, followed Clark.

‘I was getting ready to hit, anticipating they were going to walk Clark,’ Van Slyke said.

‘The rule is not to let the man who can beat you with one swing do it,’ Clark said.

Lasorda conferred with Niedenfuer. They agreed to pitch to Clark.

‘What we were going to do is get ahead of him in the count and then pitch carefully,’ Niedenfuer said. ‘Then, if we walked him, no big deal.’

As Dodger catcher Mike Scioscia crouched to give the sign, Herr was beside himself. ‘I couldn’t believe they would do that,’ Herr said. ‘I still can’t figure it out. They had been pitching around Clark the entire playoffs (five walks).’

The first and only pitch was a fastball. ‘I had struck out Clark in the seventh on three sliders,’ Niedenfuer said. ‘I was hoping to sneak a fastball by him.’

‘I was surprised it was such a good pitch,’ said Clark, who hit 22 homers this season.

The swing and the arc silenced the Dodgers and the 55,208 fans who were watching. The ball landed three-quarters of the way up the stands in left field. A conservative estimate placed the distance at 430 feet.

‘The only chance I had was if it had hit the blimp and fallen back down on the field,’ Niedenfuer said. ‘He must have hit the ball 500 feet.’

‘It was a serious laser beam,’ Van Slyke said. ‘It was Star Wars. Ronald Reagan would have been proud of that homer.’

‘They took a chance and got burnt,’ Herr said.

Clark didn’t watch the flight of the ball. Instead, he dropped his bat and looked into the Cardinal dugout. ‘Jack was saying to us, ‘Hey boys, I just got the big fly (homer)’,’ said St. Louis third baseman Terry Pendleton. ‘Jack let us know it was out when he didn’t look. Amazing. He just dropped his bat.’

‘How would you feel?’ Niedenfuer said. ‘That’s the same question you asked the other day. This is not the highlight of my career by any means.

‘At least I can say he hit my best pitch. He didn’t hit a knuckler. But it felt like a knockout punch to me. It took all the energy out of me. I don’t even know now what Van Slyke did. Pop-up? I didn’t know.

‘I know one thing. Nobody will be able to find me tomorrow.’

Lasorda didn’t dodge the truth -’Nobody feels worse in the entire United States right now than Tom Niedenfuer.’

After the game, Lasorda had a closed door meeting with his team. He cried in front of his players.

‘When I saw Tommy cry,’ said first baseman Enos Cabell, ‘I couldn’t stop myself. Tommy made me cry.’

Russ White of The Orlando Sentinel added:

Nine times in the series Tom Lasorda, the roly-poly Dodgers manager, ordered intentional walks, and nine times the strategy was correct. Nine times Lasorda’s pitcher got the next man out.

There was no 10th time because Lasorda told Niedenfuer to go at Clark and not around him. ”I wasn’t sure what they would do,” Clark said. ”With first base open the time before, they decided to pitch to me and struck me out. ”I guess they thought they could do it again,” he said. ”When I knew they were coming at me, I looked for a fastball, and I had only one real intention — to make contact. I was not looking for a home run. Just contact.

”It’s funny, but sometimes the whole key to hitting a home run is the smooth swing for contact not the big, big, home-run swing. I hit this one that way, and it’s the biggest and farthest home run I ever hit, the best home run in my life.”

As for the Ozzie Smith homer to get the Cardinals the 3-2 series lead, the Torrance (California) Daily Breeze asked:

How are you handling the news that Ozzie Smith beat the Dodgers , 3-2, Monday with a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning?

The blast, which is the result of a left-handed swing, was hit late in the afternoon. It’s even later for the Dodgers. They now trail the Cardinals, three wins to two, in the best-of-seven National League Championship Series.

Smith, you see, is not one of baseball’s heavyweights, not at 5-foot-10 and 150 pounds. To say he hits home runs infrequently is a monumental understatement. When he hit six this past season, he came within one of his total for seven previous years in the major leagues. He once went three years (1979-81 with the San Diego Padres) without hitting a home run.

One more not-so-minor point — all of Smith’s 13 home runs in the major leagues had come from the right side of the plate. A switch hitter, he was oh-for-career in home runs from the left side.

Now you expect to learn that Smith, basking in the glory of the moment, told of how this is a dream-come-true, not only for himself but for all the little guys of the world.

Again, guess again.

“When I was younger, I would dream of hitting home runs,” he said. “But not any more. I have to deal with reality.”

Reality in this situation, with one out in the bottom of the ninth and 6-foot-5, 225-pound Tom Niedenfuer throwing his 92-95 miles-per-hour fastballs, was Smith finding a way to get his bat in the way of the baseball.

This game was loaded with ironic twists.

Smith hitting a left-handed home run is bad enough from the standpoint of the Dodgers. But the reason he was penciled in second in the batting order rather than his customary eighth goes back to Sunday and what they now identify in St. Louis as the “Killer Tarp” story.

Vince Coleman, the regular No. 2 hitter, was injured Sunday when run over by the mechanized contraption that rolls and unrolls the tarp they use to cover the infield when it rains.

Tito Landrum came off the bench to fill in for Coleman. He had four hits and three runs batted in Sunday as the Cardinals evened the series.

When Landrum came back to earth Monday, going hitless, it was Smith, batting in Coleman’s No. 2 slot, who won the game with his bat.

Coleman is the MVn-P — the Most Valuable non-Player — for the Cardinals.

Another ironic point is that Smith is paid $2 million a year to win games with his glove. He helped the Cards lose the opener when he could not make a big play on a grounder hit by Bill Madlock.

It is additionally ironic that the Dodgers lose on a home run. The power game is one area where they have a clear-cut edge over the Cardinals.

Yet another irony is that Dodger pitcher Fernando Valenzuela has had great difficulty of late finishing what he starts. As underwhelming as he was in this game, setting a championship series record with eight walks, he was tough enough to pitch seven scoreless innings after giving up two runs in the first.

The Dodger bullpen beyond Niedenfuer is suspect. Thus it is ironic that when the Dodgers have the opportunity to rest him for three days after he pitches in the opener, saving that game for Valenzuela, he becomes the losing pitcher.

It is ironic that the St. Louis bullpen, which was supposed to become an arson squad when Bruce Sutter took his hike to Georgia, has been a tower of strength for the Cardinals in this series.

But back to Smith. The little fella did not just stand there meekly in the ninth trying to poke the ball into a hole somewhere. He was aggressive. He was trying to pull the ball down the line.

Pull the ball down the line? Could it be that he had become so excited that he was trying to pull the ball out of the park?

“No,” he said quickly. “I was trying to get on base. I was trying to get something started. I was trying to get a double.”

A couple of notes: Tom Niedenfuer somehow escaped becoming infamous as a postseason goat reliever in the way that Donnie Moore, Bob Stanley, and Dennis Eckersley would in the next few years. I would be surprised if many fans younger than 25, even Dodger fans, know who he is. There is the curiosity of Hershiser, who became a Dodgers postseason legend in ’88, losing a three-run lead in the seventh when the Dodgers were in a position to go into a seventh game at home. Notice, too, that Niedenfuer, after entering the game in the seventh and allowing Smith’s tying triple, was still there in the ninth to allow Clark’s two-out homer: he got six outs in a row before the Cardinals winning rally began. Niedenfuer would wind up his MLB career in 1990 with the Cardinals (of course).

Also, the Dodgers and Cardinals are two of the great National League franchises, were probably the two best N.L. teams of the ’80s, and have also met in the playoffs in 2004 and 2009, but this ’85 series is their only memorable one.

Published in: Uncategorized on October 11, 2013 at 7:52 am  Comments (1)  

The Kansas City Royals, Cleveland Indians, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds, and Detroit Tigers

I think 2013 has been the most successful season ever for this group of five teams, all of whom, over the past several decades, had at least one long stretch of futility. Fans of all of these teams but the Reds have, at some point in the last 25 years, lived through cheering for one of the two or three most ridiculed teams in MLB.

But in 2013, the five teams combined for a 455-355 record (.562) and four playoff spots. You can take their showing, together with the Cardinals again doing well, as a renaissance for MLB in, not so much the Midwest (check the problems of the Twins and Brewers, and the two Chicago teams), but the cities of the mid-Mississippi and Ohio River valleys, as well as Cleveland and Detroit. It’s probably the best time ever to be a fan of MLB who lives between Indiana and mid-Pennsylvania, and a welcome change from the incessant attention paid to the Yankees and Red Sox over the last decade or so. An Indians-Pirates (or Tigers-Pirates) 2013 World Series was in the back of my mind since April, and while the MLB marketing people probably cringed at the prospect, it would have tested whether MLB still has enough nationwide appeal to enough people to overcome the lack of a big-city coastal team in the Series.

Published in: Uncategorized on October 5, 2013 at 12:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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