Archive for the ‘ Postseason ’ Category

World Series reflections

First, thank you:
– Madison Bumgarner, for doing what you did
– Bruce Bochy for making the decision to use you
– Dave Righetti for supporting it as well

My hope is that this will be the norm and not the exception. Everyone in the media — including some who played the game — were aghast that Madison was able to do what he did. Are they too young to remember what Lew Burdette did for the Braves in the 50s, what Sandy Koufax did against me and the Twins in 1965, and Mickey Lolich (who gets left out of too many conversations) for what he did in 1968 with the Tigers?

All pitched and won games in the World Series on two days rest. And all were complete games. (Lolich also homered in one of his wins.) That was the norm in that era. We were not any stronger, better, or bigger than any of today’s pitchers, but we were trained differently.

Madison Bumgarner proved it can be done today. Unfortunately, organizations have continued to drink the Kool-Aid that says pitch counts, innings restrictions, and extra rest will help prevent injury and possibly improve performance. Most of those who preach that probably never have pitched in the big leagues.

I “only” can speak from the experience of 25 seasons, over 4,500 innings, a couple seasons of over 40 starts and 300 innings that IT WILL RUST OUT BEFORE IT WILL WEAR OUT!

I will concede that occasionally an extra day between starts could be beneficial if you start 40 games a year but I guarantee you that your control and rhythm and ability to repeat your delivery will be better. I really believe there would be fewer walks, more strikes thrown and fewer injuries. Check out MadBum’s strike/ball ratio in Game 7 with two days rest: 68 pitches, 50 strikes.

I know doctors personally who tell me the rash of elbow injuries in baseball does not come from overuse in the big leagues but with overuse as pitchers in Little League and travel team competitions. Too much stress on the arm at a young age, trying to throw too hard before their bodies are developed completely.

I understand that my words here will fall on deaf ears, as they did when I spoke out about shutting down Stephen Strasburg in 2012, when I think the Nationals could have ridden him to a world championship like the Giants did with you-know-who. But I am and will continue to be unwavering in my stance on this subject.

I take it as a compliment when the modern numbers nerds and stat geeks ignore my opinions, because I don’t accept the modern logic. I hope in my lifetime some combination of GM, agent, manager and pitching coach will start in the lowest minors to train pitchers to do what Madison did that thrilled us all who believe in what pitchers can achieve if given the opportunity.

Like Jack McKeon trained me when he was my catcher/manager in 1958 in Class C ball in Missoula, Montana. In the sixth inning, a few men on, nobody out, Jack would trot out to the mound, spit a little tobacco juice on my shoe and say’ Figure out a way to get out of this, Kid.” Sometimes I would, sometimes I wouldn’t; but I eventually learned how to pitch out of late-inning jams.

As the late, great Warren Spahn told me in the early 60s when he was kind enough to give a curious 23-year old lefty a pitching lesson, “Kid, when the game is tied in the seventh inning, the game’s just starting. Wouldn’t we all love to see Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw go toe to toe for nine innings? I’ll buy a ticket to see that one!

Salvador Perez is some catcher, Brandon Crawford is some shortstop and Lorenzo Cain is going to sign a big contract one day like Torii Hunter did. “Boch” is going to the Hall of Fame. My earlier memory of him? I was Pete Rose’s pitching coach in 1985. On September 11 at 8:11 pm, Pete singled to left center off the late Eric Show to break Ty Cobb’s all-time career hits record. The Padres catcher was Bruce Bochy.

The Giants announcing team of Kruk and Kuip is as good a listen as any announcing combo on the planet.

Thanks Ned Yost for the classy way you handled losing a tough Game 7.

I loved George Brett’s comment on the pregame show: “Hitters have become too robotic instead of ‘look for the ball and react'” That’s why strikeouts are at an all-time high. Read all the advance scouting reports that say, “With two strikes, this pitcher throws a slider 81 percent of the time,” and then he slips a fastball by you. Good luck with that kind of approach.

I respect Eric Hosmer’s ability and postseason performance, but if he swung that hard on every pitch I threw and lunged over the plate like he does, he would have to get a pitch under his armpits to make him back away. Hitters tend to swing like the ball is on a tee with no fear of being made to move their feet back. I’d loosen up on the brushback rule before I’d make catchers give runs away because they can’t protect the plate.

Along those lines, I guess all winter long people will be questioning Royals third base coach Mike Jirschele’s decision to hold Alex Gordon at third. How about this scene: Jirschele sends him, there’s a close play at the plate, and Gordon is called out. But… it appears Buster Posey may have had the toe of his shoe too close to the plate. We wait out a five-minute replay and Commissioner Selig, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa are called in to have a vote. TWo of the three overturn the call and we head to the 10th tied at 3!

Or… Gordon is called safe at home, but it is reviewed and Gordon just touched Posey’s left foot when he was in front of the plate to knock him off balance and the safe call is overturned! Could happen. Let’s hope it never does.

Joe Panik should have been given some kind of award for the DP he started in Game 7. Pretty good chance the Royals win if he doesn’t make that play. The Royals would have taken the lead and may never have had to face MadBum! I love it when plays like that happen, because you can’t do a graphic on TV like a pie chart or a shift alignment to explain what happened. It’s the art and skill of the game and the reaction of world-class baseball players. You really have to be at field level to see how fast things happen in a slow-moving 3.5-hour game.

Hope you enjoyed the postseason games as much as I did. Now what do we do? The Breeders Cup is on this weekend. That helps. You couldn’t pay me enough to watch an NBA or NFL game. I’m glad the PGA now is almost a year-round season.

Let’s see… I guess it’s only 14 weeks until pitchers and catchers report. I can’t wait. I look forward to having the opportunity to enjoy my 59th season following the most intriguing game on the planet.

Happy Holidays!

World Series thoughts

I would have been happy for any of the 10 teams that qualified for postseason play to have made it to the World Series. I have friends, former teammates and former opponents who are now coaches on all 10 teams. But now that the Royals and Giants are there, it is refreshing as a former player and lifelong fan of the game that teams with something inside of their minds and bodies trump the continuing litany of mostly meaningless stats identified by acronyms (that a lot of us still don’t understand) spewed out almost defiantly to try to have us believe that’s what determines the final score.

The final score is the only real meaningful number out there. Because anyone who has ever played knows what my friend Buddy Biancalana wrote in his guest post to this blog is true. I won’t bore you with my stats but in September of 1967 I enjoyed a similar period of time that Buddy had in the 1985 World Series.

How I wish I knew then what I know now about “getting in your own way,” “trying too hard” and many other things that keep us from performing our best at the right time. I never knew how right I was when I would holler in the dugout prior to taking the field before heading out to the mound, ” Okay guys, let’s cut our heads off and let our bodies go to work.”

My hope is that each of these teams can keep playing the game with the same unbridled enthusiasm and fluidity that they have done so far. It has been a real pleasure to watch the game played as art and not science.

Both teams come into the Fall Classic with monentum. I really feel it will be more difficult for the Royals to keep theirs than it will be for the Giants. Kansas City will have had a longer layoff. San Francisco is in a more fluid mode.

MadBum (my favorite pitcher in the big leagues) will be on regular rest. He is the best I’ve seen at a young age of “letting his body do the work” — not overthinking. He also seems to be able to repeat a fluid motion better than most we have seen in the past few weeks.

I am not a prognosticator, so I would never say the Royals can’t do it, I just think they have a more difficult challenge ahead of them than the Giants, who seem to able to treat these World Series games as everyday Spring Training games. Selfishly, I hope that these two teams continue to play the game this week with the same “intensity without tension” (credit to Joe Torre for that saying) displayed by Lorenzo Cain and many of his teammates, and Hunter Pence, The Panda and their teammates.

It may open the door for those of us who recognize the game is played by real people, not robots, They have different feelings every day like all of you. It would be nice to get equal airtime to educate and inform fans about the art of the game. If the “numbers nerds” and “stat geeks” predict the Giants in five or the Royals in six, ask them if they can tell which games they will lose.

Statistics and records in baseball are great to use for historical purposes. The numerous graphics and metrics tell you what happened in the past, but the outcomes of the games you watch today and tomorrow will be decided by the things that Buddy refers to in his article. How do I know? I’ve been there and done that. And sometimes didn’t do that!

Why the Royals Will Win or Lose the Series, From a Neuroscience Perspective

The following is a guest post by my friend, Buddy Biancalana:

With the success of this Royals club, it is kicking up many questions and memories about our 1985 World Series win against the Cardinals. Many are asking my opinion about how the two teams compare and if the club can stay hot. I am really enjoying watching the city come alive and the exhilaration so many are enjoying. What a wonderful time!

As you may know, my notoriety was achieved from one week of my career when I had a zone experience in that ’85 Series, in which I played the best baseball I ever played. After hitting just .188 during the regular season, I hit .278 with a .435 on base percentage and played errorless at shortstop. It was as if the game was in slow motion. I felt like I had more time, I wasn’t thinking and my swing and my defense were more fluid and effortless than ever before. I was told I received the highest number of MVP votes for a position player. (Bret Saberhagen deservedly won the award.)

Royals vs Cardinals World Series 1985

A big question surrounding the club going into Spring Training the following season whether I could sustain my level of play and keep the shortstop job. The question loomed even larger in my own mind, because I had no idea what took place that allowed me to play so well the previous October, so I really had no idea how to repeat it. I was hoping I could, however I felt quite a bit of anxiety wondering if I really could.

It turned out that I did not keep the job, and was out of the Major Leagues just 18 months later after suffering a career-ending back injury. Regardless, my level of play diminished greatly.
As I look at this current Royals club, I see a team that has a great bullpen, good speed and excellent defense. The biggest thing they have going for them may be the huge wave of momentum they are riding. They and their hundreds of thousands of followers are hoping the wave doesn’t crash over the next week or so, like mine did after the ’85 Series.

Over the years, there have been many great players who have not played well in the postseason. Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds and Prince Fielder are three, who for the most part have not produced in October.
In the first two games of the Royals’ Division Series win against the Angels, the trio of Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton were a collective 1-25. I’m sure that is not what Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto had in mind when signing the three to contracts in excess of $500 million. The fact that they struggled does not indicate they are not still great players, however it very clearly indicates they do not understand on the most fundamental level what makes them great.

There is a process quantified by Dr. Fred Travis, director at the Center for Brain Consciousness and Cognition, as to what takes place in the brain when any athlete is playing at their best. It is called “The Fluid Motion Factor.” When an athlete is “in the zone,” the information they are processing is moving to a part of the brain called the cerebellum uninterrupted by the prefrontal cortex. It is what I experienced when playing in the ‘85 Series. It is the only way that fluid motion is produced in the body and what many of the current Royals have been experiencing over the first eight postseason games.

Salvador Perez, their All-Star catcher, may be one of the few who is not experiencing the Fluid Motion Factor. Thus far in the postseason, he is hitting just .118 with a .143 on-base percentage, despite a career average of .280 with a .315 OBP. As great as A-Rod, Bonds, Fielder, Trout, Pujols and Hamilton are/were, often in the postseason the Fluid Motion Factor has shut down, which caused their performances to suffer.

The concern for the red-hot Royals is that the Fluid Motion Factor can leave them just as quickly as it came, and like me in the spring of 1986, they may not know where to look to regain it. The good news is that Dayton Moore has not tied up over $500 million in three players.

Buddy Biancalana is a former first-round MLB draft pick and played six seasons as a Major League infielder with the Royals and Astros, winning the 1985 World Series with the Royals. He is the co-founder of PMPM Sports-Zone Training and the co-author of The 7 Secrets of World Class Athletes.

Division Series musings

What a great time to be a baseball fan and then having the advantage of being a former player as well. I wish these Division Series games could go on forever. Compelling games that really expose what determines a win or loss, these are much more entertaining to me as a fan, because you see so many different teams in a short period of time. The LCS and World series drag on too long.

These games are pleasing to me because they expose how the endless metrics and stats that inundate us with have very little to do with who wins or loses. It’s not pitch count, it’s pitch selection and execution. More on that later.

Buck ShowalterIt’s been a real pleasure for me to see the maturation of Buck Showalter as a manager. I was announcing Yankee games in 1995 when Buck was managing them. He was not as free to be himself then because, well, because they were the Yankees and George Steinbrenner and his ‘baseball people’ were still a little heavy-handed during that time and looking over his shoulder.

Now he’s become the most delightful, insightful, secure, unguarded manager I talk to for pregame preparation. How about him leaving a lefty, Andrew Miller, in to face Miggy? How many managers today would have the guts to do that? And walk the winning run intentionally? Great move. Brad Ausmus had no power hitters left on his bench.

Speaking of Ausmus, did you know three of the four managers in this season’s LCS are former catchers? Six of the 10 teams that qualified for the postseason were managed by former catchers.

As a former player and coach and current announcer for MLB Network, over the past 58 years I have had the advantage and privilege of being in uniform for over 4,000 Major League games, and in the broadcast booth for another 2,000. What I have learned from those games is that it is not the pitch counts, innings restrictions, OPS, WAR, WHIP, or any other acronym that determines who is going to win or lose.

As our friend Joe Torre said many years ago, the key is to be “intense without being tense” — a fluid motion and less grip pressure on the ball and bat. The four teams that did that the best are the four teams still standing. None of the four were favored to win by most people. They all certainly surprised and impressed me.

When are we going to quit “drinking the Kool-Aid” served by those who have never worn a Major League uniform or experienced what it is like to be in the game? There are hard-working managers and coaches who could have much more influence on their teams and players if they didn’t have to be subjected to the metrics handed down from above. My longtime friend and teammate, Hall of Fame broadcaster Tim McCarver, and I delight in being accused of not embracing a lot of the metrics. We take it as a compliment!

Let’s go back to pitch counts. I’m sure there is a lot of discussion today about Clayton Kershaw’s pitch count coming back on “just” three days rest. Let me go back to Game 7 of the 1965 World Series when our Minnesota Twins were playing the Dodgers. Sandy Koufax was pitching with two days of rest, coming off a complete game shutout in Game 5. He had an average curveball by his standards the first five innings, and then it lost its bite and he threw nothing but well-located fastballs the final four innings. The result was a 2-0 shutout.

Last night’s Cardinals-Dodgers game solidified my thinking that there are more late-inning, game-winning hits off poorly thrown breaking balls than fastballs. Former coaches Eddie Lopat and Johnny Sain, both curveball specialists, taught me that early in my career.

If you watched Kershaw’s curve in the early innings, it was crisp and sharp. Then it began to lose its bite. Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright predicted Matt Adams would hit a curveball out if he got one. He probably could see from the bench what I saw on TV. I would never second guess the call of A.J. Ellis or Kershaw in throwing the curve. The pitcher and catcher know better than anyone in the park which pitch they think is best. It’s the execution.

As Eddie Lopat taught me, if you throw a curveball late in the game when it isn’t as sharp, you try to throw it “lower than low.” Try to bounce it on the plate and it will come in at the knees. It always seems to come in a little higher than you intended.

That’s all that happened on that pitch. It wasn’t because his count was at 100-plus pitches. It was the execution. As the late, great Warren Spahn told me 50 years ago, “Kid, when the game is tied in the seventh inning, the game is just starting. You can’t get by the last three innings with mistakes that you may have in the first six.”

Taking starting pitchers out when they are rolling along is another area where gut and art are better than metrics. Jordan Zimmermann was rolling along like a freight train. Why stop the train? It’s like taking the starting catcher out for a pinch hitter when he and the pitcher have a shutout going. There was more pressure on Drew Storen in that situation than on Zimmermann. He had the feel of the ball, fluid motion, could smell the finish line. Why stop him?

Probably because the organization’s protocol is that this is what we do in the ninth inning when the pitch count hits 100. What a shame that our game has come to be science rather than art and feel. I’m sure Matt Williams was influenced by how things are done day after day, regardless of the situation.

I like Kansas City’s “Moneyball” — not walks and home runs and taking pitches, but stolen bases, sacrifice bunts, great fielders and an outstanding bullpen. That’s moneyball for me.

Another item that those of us that have been in the game for a while have long recognized: the three men who affect the outcome of a game the most are the two starting pitchers and the home plate umpire. The last couple of Cardinals-Dodgers games were good indicators. Umpires are people not robots. They all interpret the strike zone differently.

As Buck Showalter told me earlier this year, “Some umpires hunt strikes; some hunt balls.” I know Dale Scott, Eric Cooper and several of the umpires. “Scotty” has always had a pitcher-friendly zone. In my era, Ed Runge was that way, too. His motto was, “They didn’t come to see you walk.” Eddie Hurley was just the opposite. I called him “Cracker Box,” because that was the size of his strike zone. There is no doubt that if a different umpire had been behind the plate in some of these Division Series games, the outcome may have been different. But they’re human and they’re the best in the business.

Now, I do embrace some numbers. My favorite set of numbers is the final score. Score one more than the opposition, you win 100 percent of the time. Nice percentage.

The number three is scored most of the time according to the 25-year database my friend Merrianna McCully has in her book, Three Up – Three Down. Two runs is second most common. It’s interesting that three runs were scored by one team on eight occasions in the 26 Division Series games this year. The team scoring three runs won six of those. Impressive starting pitching, great fielding plays and lockdown bullpens enabled that. Two runs were scored seven times, with just two wins out of those seven games. Four or more runs were scored eight times, and those teams’ record in those games was 6-2.

That’s the norm during the season. If you score four or more every game, you should win the series. Not eight one day and none the next. Averages are meaningless. A consistent four runs is what you shoot for every game. You can see how that “swing run” is a little lower with these four teams left. Three runs might be enough.

Enjoy the rest of the postseason. I hope these LCS and World Series games are as good as the Division Series games!

REFLECTIONS ON 2011

First, thank you to those of you who read my blog and to the nice comments I have received. It’s fulfilling for me to be a part of MLB Network both on television and on the internet. Keeps me in touch with the game and those of you who love it like I do.

Some former players can walk away from it and not miss it. Some leave it and later wish they could get back in in some capacity. I have been fortunate to stay involved in some form as a player, coach, TV analyst and blogger, as well as making appearances for establishments like the Bob Feller Museum and other firms that ask me to appear at baseball functions for the past 55 years.

I am looking forward to my fourth season — hard to believe it’s MLB Network’s fourth year already — working with my partner and friend, Bob Costas, on several games, as well as appearing in the studio from time to time.

2011 was an exciting year for baseball, climaxed by that memorable final day of the season and then the surprises and drama of Postseason heroics by the Cardinals and David Freese.

It was interesting to anticipate and guess who some of the award winners would be. All very deserving and not totally unexpected. I wish with all my heart that Ryan Braun will be cleared of any wrongdoing. He is some player and had been a model of good behavior. I wish Prince Fielder could stay in Milwaukee. Those fans deserve another shot at having a championship team. Probably fantasy on my part.

The season, as all seasons do, had its sad moments. My friend and former teammate , Harmon Killebrew, passed away in May. It was an honor to speak at his memorial service in Minneapolis. Harm is probably the most admired and respected athlete in Midwest sports history, and the comments I got from friends and colleagues about him being the most humble and polite Hall of Famer are true. A gentle giant as a slugger, yet relatively small in physical stature. Just 5’10”, but powerful. Thanks to MLB.com for remembering all of those in the baseball family who passed away in 2011.

I wish all of you a safe New Year’s weekend and a healthy, happy 2012. I hope your team has a good year and keeps and holds your interest right to the end.

With the wild card (and eventually wild cards, plural) it giving more teams hope, my wish is that the decision-makers reward the division winners with home games, more rest for the pitchers, or whatever it takes to give them a decided advantage in Postseason play. It’s nice for fans to see what teams like the Cardinals did last year, but the most difficult thing to do in sports is to excel over an entire season. You have to overcome injuries, slumps by hitters and pitchers and grueling travel at times to win when you’re not at full strength. A lot of teams could win a World Series these days if they qualified by just having a streak like the Cardinals but you have to perform over six months — not just two weeks — to win a division.

It won’t be long until we hear or read those magic words: “Pitchers and catchers report tomorrow!” I hope I can hear it for many more years.

Happy New Year!

Congratulations and perspective

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…

Moneyball and Game 7

Just to stay in baseball mode before this 2011 season comes to an end tonight or tomorrow night, I went to see Moneyball last night. It’s a must see for a few reasons. It’s very entertaining. It holds your attention. Art Howe will not be pleased with the way he looked. Artie always appeared to me to look like an ex-Marine. Shiny, bald head, good physique, excellent posture. He wasn’t portrayed like that in the movie. And “Wash” is leaner than he looked in the movie. Bille Beane should be pleased. Brad Pitt! Wow, Beaner. Good on ya.

I have a lot of respect for Billy and the way he has worked to make the A’s competitive with limited funds, but each time I talked to him on the phone (which was usually on speakerphone from Brian Cashman’s office), I would tell him, “Moneyball for me is having Barry Zito, Mark Mulder, and Tim Hudson healthy and starting 34 to 35 games a season. That’s a winning formula.” (Brian occasionally would have me sit in his office with him before Yankee games and talk about the game during the 12 years that I worked for MSG and YES.)

It is also important for the baseball fan to see to really understand the thinking that went into putting the 2002 A’s together. I was not pleased with the way they portrayed the scouts. These guys put a lot of time in to evaluate talent and try to project who will be a Major Leaguer. We all know that is hard to do.

If you want to entertain yourself on a rainy day, get the Elias Sports Bureau book on the first 25 years of the MLB Draft. From Rick Monday, who was the first player ever drafted, to Ben McDonald who was the number one pick 25 years later. Very interesting to see who made it and who didn’t and how high or low they were drafted. Remember Mike Piazza’s draft round? Look it up sometime. What the modern sabermetric guys use to select players who might help their team — like Peter Brand does in the movie and now many of today’s GMs do — are the batting statistics of players already in the big leagues like Scott Hatteberg. That’s not fair to the scouts who are hired to pick amateur players and project if they’ll ever be big leaguers.

Tim McCarver and I had a discussion recently about “money ballplayers” and “Moneyball” players. There’s a difference. Yogi Berra and Kirby Puckett were money-ball players not necessarily moneyball players. As a former pitcher, I would love to have had them look at two or three pitches before they swung, and not attack the first one that looked hittable. Facing them with a count of 0-2 or 1-2 would have been more comfortable than having them swing early in the count. Check out their walk/strikeoout ratios sometime on Baseball-Reference.com.

A Moneyball player may get on base more than some free swingers and  score a fairly high number of runs, but will they get the key hits to win close games?  In the movie, Peter Brand points out how they can replace the runs they lost when Jason Giambi left  by cobbling together what Hatteberg and a couple others could do in aggregate. They looked at total runs scored. Can’t agree with that theory. You can score 10 runs a game for 3 straight games and then only 1 a game for the next 3. total 33. over 5 a game. you’ve still probably won three and lost three.

So what I want is a team like the Yankee teams of the late 90s before Jason Giambi and Alex Rodriguez got there. O’Neill, Martinez, Brosius, Girardi, Jeter, Bernie Williams, Knoblauch, and others scored four or more runs a high percentage of the time and with good pitching, and with Mo and Wetteland pitching at the end of the game, they had quite a run. Not many MVP or Cy Young awards. Bernie won a batting title, but the trademark of that team was consistently scoring four or more every game. Their winning percentage when they did was by far the best in the AL. Atlanta was the gold standard for that in the NL. Why? Maddux, Smoltz, Glavine, Avery, Millwood.

My point about the Yankee lineup is none of them were the prototypical Moneyball batters. They were all good situational hitters, good two-strike hitters, made productive outs to move the runners up a base. Those are money-ball players. With no disrespect to Jason Giambi or Alex Rodriguez, it may surprise you that during my 12 seasons covering the Yankees (1995-2006), my all-time Yankee team would have Tino Martinez at first base and Scott Brosius at third. Neither one a Hall of Famer or MVP, but they knew how to play the game on both sides of the ball. Outstanding fielders, baserunners, and situational hitters. I think most teams could afford them both. They’re not superstars that will command a five-year, double-digit million-dollar contract.

Regardless of my opinions on the theory behind it and whether you or other baseball people agree, see the movie. I had a flashback when Billy Beane had to tell Mike Magnante he was cut from the roster. At least Mike was told in person. After 25 seasons in the majors, I got a phone call during the All-Star break in 1983  from Cardinal GM, Joe McDonald, telling me they were releasing me and had purchased the contract of Dave Rucker, a promising lefty they acquired from Detroit. I thought it was tasteless and classless. Still do.

At the time, 25 years was the longest anyone had ever played in the majors. Tommy John and Nolan Ryan passed me after that. TJ pitched for 26 seasons, Nolan 27. But as time went on, I realized that you either leave the game on your terms or the game’s terms. As they say in the movie, the game will tell you when you’re no longer wanted or needed. It might be when you’re in your 20s or when you’re 40. I was 44. Very fortunate. The film has a few tender moments like that. The times Billy Beane and his daughter shared were poignant.

That’s my Jeffrey Lyons critique of Moneyball.

Just a thought looking ahead to Game 7, if there is one. Always fun to try to think what the managers might be thinking. For the Cardinals, Carp starts, Westbrook is ready to go early, then it’s matchup time. For the Rangers, “Harry” starts –“Wash” is a loyal guy — Feldman next since the Cards may have a lot of righthanded batters in the lineup, then Holland ready for the right situation and Ogando, Adams and Feliz to follow. Nothing really surprising about that. Just trying to have fun thinking along with the managers.

A final thought. A lot of time was devoted to hearing Tony’s reasoning for not being able to bring Motte into Game 5 in the 8th. Not enough time to get ready. One of many things I learned from Eddie Lopat and Johnny Sain — my two favorite pitching coaches — was to have the relief pitchers throw from the bullpen mound before or during batting practice. Nothing stressful, just loosen up like you would before you get called on during the game. Almost game-ready. Then stop. Now, when the phone rings and it’s your call, you can get ready in a hurry.

Ted Power and John Franco took to that nicely when I coached them in Cincinnati in the mid 80’s. I did it myself when I was with the Cardinals in the early 80s. I found out that with six to eight pitches in the ‘pen and another eight that I’m allowed from the mound when I got called in, I was ready.

Speaking of calls to the bullpen. I always enjoyed guessing whose name was called when Dave Ricketts, our bullpen coach in St. Louis , answered the phone. The choices the year we won the World Series in 1982 were Mark Littell, John Martin, Jeff Lahti, Doug Bair, myself, and Bruce Sutter. I can honestly say that Whitey Herzog was so consistent in who he wanted for different situations that I was right on close to 100 percent of his calls. He was a master at matching up the right pitcher for the right batter.

Hope the weather has improved in St. Louis…

Whew! A day or two off might be a welcome relief

Wow!  Can’t remember seeing so many bizarre things happen in one game! And… it’s the World Series!

Mix-ups, miscommunications, unusual moves, unusual results.

First, I always believe that managers know their players and what they can and can’t do better than any of us. I can only comment on what I would do if I were pitching or what I learned from watching players that I played with and against  and managers that I played  for and apply that knowledge to try to figure out what is going on between the lines and in the minds of those involved down on the field.

Last night’s game was a second-guesser’s delight. Lots of things to question players and managers about. Here are some of the things that puzzled me and what I would have wanted to ask some of the participants about:

Let’s start with the result. Texas won 4-2, but it didn’t seem as “clean”  or well played game that a 4-2 score would indicate.

C.J. Wilson walked through a minefield of base runners through five innings to survive by surrendering just two runs. Not all his fault. The Rangers were a little sloppy with their fielding. I cringed when he came out for the 6th.

Chris Carpenter deserved to be the winning pitcher. The curve to Adrian Beltre just a smidge too high and a smidge too much inside. Other than that pitch and the one Mitch Moreland smoked, he was terrific.  Give up two solo home runs in that park to that lineup, and you’ll win probably eight out of 10 times.

So why would Albert or Tony put a hit-and-run sign on with Albert hitting? I ask because when I played with Hall of Fame slugger Harmon Killebrew, he never wanted the runners to be in motion when he was at bat. First, they were already in scoring position, because Harm was one of the most dangerous home run threats of his era. He hit 573 of them. Secondly, when the runners were in motion, it distracted him… and tempted him to swing at close pitches he would normally not swing at. Like most power hitters, he hit into a lot of double plays. So what. Maybe the purpose of the hit-and-run has changed, but during my era of playing, the hit-and-run’s purpose was to make the middle infielders move and open up a hole to get runners on first and third. Staying out of the DP was secondary.

I’m puzzled in learning that Albert puts on a hit-and-run sign a lot. Didn’t think it would be necessary. Also, the hit-and-run usually is easier to execute when you have a pitcher that is a) almost always around the plate with his pitches; and b) quite easy easy to make contact with his pitches. Feliz is neither. He misses the strike zone by a lot, and he’s difficult for a hitter to make contact.

I would never suspect a hitter of Albert’s caliber would use the hit-and-run a lot. I know he doesn’t strike out as much as he walks or as much as most home run hitters do, but from a pitcher’s point of view i think I’d rather have him hit-and-run and try to make contact than to sit on a pitch, take a balanced swing and cost me two runs with a homer.

I have seen that the purpose of the hit and run has changed from what its intention was when guys like Luis Aparicio and Nellie Fox used it in the 50s for the White Sox or Dick Groat when he hit second for the Cardinals and Pirates. Fox struck out 13 times in 1959 in over 600 ABs, Groat 35 times in 1960 in over 600 ABs. Both guys won MVP awards. That was the typical hit-and-run type batter. Soooooo, that’s why it’s puzzling to see a hitter like Albert use it. He’s certainly capable of making contact, except against Feliz it’s a low percentage.

Now, about the bullpen mixup… It’s a stadium design flaw if the bullpens are not in view of the team dugout. Manager and pitching coach should be able to see who is or isn’t warming up. When the phones broke down years ago, we’d have individual signals from the bench for each reliever. Make a big circle with your hands if he was a little heavy; stroke your chin if he had a beard; arm up high for the taller of the two lefties. Plenty of ways to do it.

When the bullpen and dugout phones were connected to the stadium switchboard, they had three-digit extensions. The directory was on a card on the wall in the dugouts and the bullpens. In Detroit, the home bullpen was down the left field line, and the guys in the home dugout couldn’t see it.  The Tigers’ late inning pitcher was lefty Hank Aguirre. As a starting pitcher, I would get bored and restless on the days I wasn’t pitching, so I’d sneak down to the pen. Drove the bullpen coach crazy. Clyde McCullough or Bob Oldis or whoever it was at the time.

One day we got a couple of runners on base and, for fun, I decided to call the Tiger pen and in a muffled, disguised voice I quickly said, “Get Aguirre up,” and hung up. He got up and started to warm up. It was the 4th inning. They recognized it after a short time and sat him down.

Lots of bullpen pranks went on in those days. The late Moe Drabowsky tried to order Chinese takeout to be deilvered to the bullpen one day. I never imagined things like what happened in last night’s bullpen mix-up could happen with today’s technology. I admire Tony La Russa for being very cool about it after the game. I can only imagine how he felt not having Motte ready to pitch to Napoli instead of “Scrabble.”

Now, “Wash”… Was it really just a gut feeling and you hoped he’d get lucky, or you liked the way the stars were aligned when you allowed Murphy to bat against the lefty? If it was fielded cleanly, it would’ve, should’ve, could’ve been a double play. That would have been an interesting answer to get from him if that happened.

But it didn’t. The Rangers got a break and eventually won the game even after a hit batsman and a walk. And the game ended on a strikeout that could have resulted in all kinds of trouble for Texas, as Mike Napoli had to chase the ball down the first base line and flip it to first for the final out. That ball could have gone in a different direction easily.

All in all…Carpenter pitched well enough to win. Wilson worked his way out a lot of  situations where the Cardinals could have broken the game open and led by a lot. Credit him for that. It’s always an interesting topic: Was it poor hitting or good pitching? The guy is their ace and won 16 games. That didn’t happen by accident…

I think both managers may have interesting decisions to make tonight or tomorrow regarding their starting pitchers, because the early report is that  Game 6 may be postponed and played on Thursday. That would be a nice break for the Cardinals. If it goes seven, Carpenter might be available to start that game. Derek Holland could come back for Texas fresh off his gem on Sunday night.

This baseball is a great game, isn’t it?  Can’t wait to see Game 6, whenever that is played.

Lots of good things in this World Series

A lot of fans on the East Coast are obviously disappointed that the Yankees, Red Sox or Phillies are not in the World Series. I don’t think it’s a shock that Texas is in again, but the Cardinals’ stretch run to get in was like the great Zenyatta — a super horse that thrilled us with her late running style last year. There’s always the articles on the TV ratings that indicate not as many fans are interested in the World Series without the big names in it. Well, get over it. The teams that deserve to be there are there and there are a lot of good things happening for baseball.

Those of us that love and appreciate the game to see enjoyable baseball — no matter who the participants are — can’t help it that the bigger market teams with larger fan bases aren’t in it. Neither can the Cardinals or Rangers. In no particular order here are some of the things that have been nice to see in the first four games.

Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler are getting some national exposure for the second-straight year. Thet are putting on a great show.

David Freese is healthy and showing why he may be a breakout slugger next year.

Very cool to see a different side of Nolan Ryan. A side that I never saw from the dugout competing against him for over  10 years.

Mike Maddux is the next Dave Duncan.

Not that he needed it, but Albert (Like Reggie,he doesn’t need a last name.) is showing fans what a complete player he is. This isn’t his first rodeo on the national stage, but more and more fans are getting to see what St. Louis and a lot of the NL has seen for a decade. Forget the little blip about not being around to answer for deflecting the relay throw in Game 2. If the East Coast media think he’s too sensitive to handle occasional criticism in those markets, so be it. He belongs in St. Louis anyway.

The Rangers were not a fluke last year. They are very World Series worthy.

Ron Washington is an uninhibited breath of fresh air.

Michael Young is moving up the ladder several more rungs as a Texas sports hero. Plays the game the way we were all taught to play it.

In the first four games, baseball has shown the biggest reason it is different from other games and more unpredictable… Football has the same QB game after game. Hockey the same goalie most of the time. Basketball, the same starting five night after night. But the big reason a team can score 16 runs one night and zero the next is because… drum roll… the starting pitcher. There’s a different one starting every game. I love that about the game.

Being a former pitcher I always enjoyed the challenge of knowing that along with the opposing starter and the home plate umpire you had a chance to influence the outcome of the game more than any other position. You need guys making plays behind you, but we have seen that if you pitch with some energy and are in control of what you’re doing like Chris Carpenter does and Derek Holland did last night and trust your stuff, you can shut down any lineup.

Tony La Russa is showing why he will go into the Hall of Fame as the most visible example of  a “scientific baseball manager” opposed to the ones who are there and went more by instinct like Sparky and Casey and Whitey and Lasorda and Earl. They were prepared and applied some statistical history into their decision-making, but not to the extent that Tony does.

You may not agree with his moves and how he makes more pitching changes than most and I feel is more responsible for controlling the running game from the bench than any other manager — or his serious, studious manner — but the man has his team prepared to exhaust every effort to win until the last out is made. He leaves nothing to chance. He competes from inside. You seldom see it expressed visibly.

Umpires are human. What a shame that one or maybe a few members of the media cast a bad light on that industry by questioning Ron Kulpa’s integrity by referencing that he’s from St. Louis after he missed a call that favored the Cardinals. Will someone please take their credentials away? If baseball can find a way to quickly — and I hope very quickly — to review some calls, we could use replays to get the calls right. It will be better for the game and the umpires. Technology has allowed us to see things we never could see in the past.

This is a wish, not something I’ve enjoyed. Is the FOXTrack or strikezone box we see on our screen 100% accurate? If so, you understand why the home plate umpire’s interpretation of the strike zone is like tonite’s starting pitchers. They’re all different. I’d like to see an endorsement from MLB or the TV networks that use it to verify that is 100% accurate. My understanding is that if one piece of the baseball touches the borders of the strike zone it’s a strike.

Then we’ll be comfortable sitting at home knowing how well the umpire is judging balls and strikes and MLB will be able to help train umpires to improve as home plate umpires and we’ll know if it really is a ball or strike. I see the pitch go over the plate near the letters or knees and the electronic box doesn’t seem to show it the same. The third part of knowing if the box is accurate is it will help me determine if I need another eye test soon!

The pitchers that can get the last six outs are really special in today’s game, even if they do keep managers on the edge of their seat at times (i.e. Feliz in last night’s game). When I played for the Cardinals in 1982 and Whitey Herzog was the manager, he was the first manager I heard say, “I’m going to build my pitching staff from the 9th inning back.” With Bruce Sutter pitching the 9th and occasionally the 8th and 9th, we won the World Series.

Tim McCarver is showing us why he is who he is as a baseball analyst. With insight like telling us: Gene Mauch, longtime big league manager and excellent teacher said ,when an infielder goes to his right, he should try to field the ball with the webbing in his glove, it’s softer… David Freese is playing shallow at third and Kinsler is a pull hitter? Bingo. Kinsler pulls it down the line past him. And many more ‘pearls’ that I’ve been hearing from Tim, He’s the best.

He’s analyzed more World Series games on TV than anyone since games have been televised. Pleased to say I learned a lot from Timmy when I got started analyzing games. I was his teammate for over three years in Philadelphia and we spent a lot of time on the bench talking “IB” , player speak for inside baseball.  That was stuff that became very helpful when I started my announcing career.

I hope the people who vote for the announcers that get inducted into the announcer’s wing of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown vote Tim in this year. He deserves to be there. As fearless and candid and brutally honest and objective in the booth as he was in the dugout and on the field.

Games 1 & 2: The essence of baseball

If you didn’t enjoy the first two games of the World Series you are either a Home Run Derby type of fan that enjoys seeing double-digit scoring and “digs the long ball,” or you get bored easily with games that don’t have a lot of scoring but get one’s attention in other ways. How each pitch, spectacular fielding play or occasional sloppy play in the field, alert baserunning and even a little bit of luck — like a bloop hit on a pitch that would usually get a hitter out — can have a lot more influence on the outcome than a three-run homer. I loved these first two games for those reasons.

I know, I’m an old fashioned baseball fan. I enjoy a game on a lazy summer afternoon with no noise in the park except the sound of the ball hitting the bat or hearing the players in the field talking it up on the infield. The voice of the vendor two sections away selling his wares. The game was intended to be more of a cerebral game than a lot of others like football or basketball. Those games are entertaining for other reasons, they can be more violent, have more constant action. Some of today’s baseball games during the regular season resemble a rock concert. I’ll take these last two games anytime.

What’s the manager thinking? How are these pitchers getting hitters out without throwing 98 miles an hour? Will they bunt, hit and run, steal?

Baseball was intended to be, if my dad explained it to me correctly, a game that you sat back and enjoyed the skills of the guys on the field executing the basic fundamentals of the game and didn’t have to be a 6’2″, 225-pound, carved-out-of-granite specimen to play it well. The average-size athlete can still compete and succeed.

I mentioned in my blog a couple days ago that facing hitters for the first time gives a definite edge to the pitcher. We’ve seen that. You can tell by the hitter’s reactions either swinging or taking a pitch that there is an element of not knowing what to expect or where to expect it. Quite a contrast to the Milwaukee/St. Louis series where they knew each other so well after playing each other 18 times during the season. Not to say the pitchers aren’t good pitchers anyway, but the lack of familiarity helps them.

Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus had quite a game as a middle infield combo didn’t they? Not just seeing Andrus make the stops and the acrobatic throws and the timing of Kinsler catching the throw and stepping on the bag just in time to get the out….What you don’t see on TV is the anticipation and preparation in advance of the pitch to get themselves in position to make those kind of plays.

Without knowing it at the time, I learned a lot about how the game  should be played on my days between starts sitting next to a veteran like Pete Whisenant or next to a coach like George Strickland when I was in my early 20s. There weren’t any electronic screens showing meaningless minutia to “dumb you down” and take your mind away from the game. Thank goodness!  Guys like Whisenant and Strickland would tell me to watch the hitter/baserunner after he got a hit to see if he rounded the bag and anticipated a bad throw and was ready to take the extra base. Elvis Andrus did that. It impacted the game.

The managers make moves one day and they work and make them look like they are really smart. If the same moves don’t work the next game they are open to second guessing from fans and media. These two managers know that and they are smart and secure enough to make the moves and live with the results, not affected by critics who have never been between the lines. They put their players in position to be successful with their matchups. Then it’s up to the players to execute correctly.

We are inundated with statistics in baseball. Graphics crawling across the bottom of the screen or little boxes giving us so much information one can’t follow it or digest it very easily. I remember one statistic that Lou Pinella mentioned to me 20 years ago when he was managing Seattle. It was the first time I had ever been made aware of the importance of it. Lou said, “Give me some hitters than can drive the runner in from third with less than two out 100 percent of the time and we’ll score enough runs to win a pennant with just decent pitching, not necessarily great pitching.

Josh Hamilton and Michael Young did that last night. Two sacrifice flys. Check out the Major League average sometime for doing that in those situations. A ground ball with the infield back, a sac fly, a soft single, a squeeze bunt… Anything to get the runner home. You’ll be surprised at how low the percentage of times it’s done during the season for all teams combined. Maybe not much over 50 percent.

And then, the element of luck. Jason Motte made a good enough pitch to get Kinsler out but give credit to Kinsler for putting  it in play and getting a bloop hit. Hitters and pitchers have said for years that the breaks don’t even out. Hitters will say, I never get enough bloop hits to make up for all the line drives I’ve hit at people. Pitchers say the same about liners and bloops they’ve given up. Jason Motte will look back on that bloop single someday after giving up a scorching liner right at one of his infielders and have it end up as a double play and get some retribution.

I don’t think we’ll continue to see low scoring games with the subtle plays and  alert baserunning impacting the outcome like these first two games but it has been fun to watch. Warmer weather and the excitement of opening games has passed, and Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is hitter friendly. That adds up to a bigger challenge for the starting pitchers. At least we got two games of good, old-fashioned hardball. Hope you enjoyed them as much as I did.

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