October 29th, 2011
First and most importantly, congratulations to the St. Louis Cardinals for winning the 2011 World Series in the most dramatic, exciting, and improbable manner. Who knew after being 10 1/2 out they could do this? Obviously they did, and that’s all that matters.
Let’s allow them to enjoy what they accomplished. I know from being a member of the 1982 World Series-winning team how Cardinal fans love and support their team. As great a baseball town as there is in America. Baseball rules there.
I wanted to give myself a day after Game 6 and not make a knee jerk reaction to the way that ended and what was in store for the Rangers after losing that one. Unless they could have pitched Sandy Koufax in his prime in Game 7, I thought their chances were very slim that they would win it.
In 1982, I remember after John Stuper pitched a remarkable complete game win Game 6, outpitching Hall of Famer Don Sutton, that our chances of winning Game 7 were excellent. As a player, you can feel it. You know the team that had it in their grasp and couldn’t hold onto it had lost something. In my opinion, what players lose is “fluidity of motion.” It really shows up in the pitching motion. This offseason, I hope to get a chance to do a segment on this subject on MLB Hot Stove. I have some guests that have studied it and written about it. One of them is a former player, Buddy Biancalana.
Here is my perspective on what we saw in the past 10 days. I am currently in Cincinnati with Johnny Bench and several Hall of Famers that all won Gold Gloves for fielding excellence: Ozzie Smith, Ryne Sandberg, Eddie Murray, Al Kaline, and Andre Dawson. We had an interesting Q and A at Green Diamond Gallery, one of the most impressive collections of baseball memorabilia you will ever see outside of Cooperstown. Owned by a wonderful man, Bob Crotty, a local businessman. Everyone agreed that Game 6 may have been the most exciting game in World Series history. Ranks with Game 6 of 1975.
But… I think we need to define your definition of “great.” I thought Game 7 of the 1991 series was a great game because of the pitching and the strategy by the managers. Tom Kelly of the Twins and Bobby Cox of the Braves. It was won by the Twins, 1-0. A memorable pitching performance by Jack Morris. Our own MLB Network analyst John Smoltz also pitched well. This game had very few mistakes. Drama and tension from the 1st inning as to who was going to score first.
What we have seen in the past 10 days has not been great baseball by Major League standards. Start where you wish: Poor execution of attempted sacrifices, baserunning mistakes resulting in pickoffs at crucial times, inconsistent control by pitchers, poor situational hitting like advancing runners with productive outs, failing to score runners from third with less than two outs. Certainly not Gold Glove standard fielding. And probably a lot more.
So before we put the stamp of greatness on Game 6, let’s decide for ourselves what our definition of greatness is. For me, Game 6 was as exciting from the 8th inning on as any game ever. Without as much media coverage, you might make a case for Game 7 of the 1960 series where Bill Mazeroski hit the walk-off homerun to win it for the Pirates. Check out that box score on Retrosheet.org, one of my favorite baseball websites. Chock full of interesting stuff.
My dad told me about a certain lefty who pitched in the majors back in the 20s or 30s. His first name was Bill. His control was erratic. On days he couldn’t find the strike zone, like C.J. Wilson during this series, they called him “Wild Bill.” On days he threw strikes, he was “Sweet William.” Too many Wild Bill days for the Rangers in this series.
One of the things I learned early in my career — the hard way, like Texas learned — was “It’s not the long ball that will beat you, it’s the bases on balls.” Was it an example of the detailed printouts teams have today showing how to pitch every hitter down to the centimeter? Has the art of pitching been replaced by scientific and statistical information?
I know some of that is helpful, but here’s an example of the art of pitching. 1st inning last night. Texas leads 2-0. Albert is up. Two out,nobody on base. We’ve heard all series long: pitch around him, don’t let him beat you. I respect him as a great hitter, but my thinking there might have been “I’m going to throw Albert a little 3/4 batting practice fastball and say, ‘Here it is Albert, see how far you can hit it.'” He may have hit it 500 feet! But he may have popped it up, because he wasn’t expecting a nice little cookie right down Broadway. If he hits it out, I still lead 2-1. What are the percentages,since the game seems to be driven by those these days, of giving up back to back homeruns? I’d rather think like that then think defensively and walk two guys.
I was having a discussion with one of the pitchers I coached when I was Pete Rose’s pitching coach in the mid-80s: Tom Browning. He won 20 games as a rookie that year. Doubt if he hit 90 very often on the radar gun. Pitched a perfect game in 1988. He was never afraid to challenge a hitter. Threw strikes. Threw his pitches with conviction. Like, “I dare you to hit this.” Not “I don’t want you to hit it” or “I’m afraid you might hit it.” I get the impression from watching games and talking pitching with various baseball people that that kind of thinking doesn’t exist much anymore. David Cone was that kind of pitcher. Art over stats.
I have loved this time of year since 1945, when I followed the World Series between the Cubs and Tigers. Can name every pair of teams that participated right up to the present. Why? I got to listen (and eventually watch) every game as a kid because they were in the daytime. Are we so interested in every rating point and dollar that we have become allergic to sunshine and fresh air?
My grandsons, age 14 and 10, love Derek Jeter. Who doesn’t? But, they can’t become a fan of the entire game like I did — including the great history of the game — because with the games on late they, won’t get hooked on it like I did. They couldn’t stay up to watch the last innings of Game 6. What a shame. I know I’m going down a dead end street with that thinking, but I just have to vent a little because I remember how special it was for me as kid to look forward to hanging on every pitch.
Well, it’s been a great month to be a fan and it may have created a few new ones….Now it’s time to study the horses for the Breeders Cup championships coming up next weekend. Then the President’s Cup golf event. And soon — sooner than it used to be — we’ll hear “Pitchers and catchers report next week.” I always look forward to that…