random stuff

It’s Hot Stove season. Know what the term Hot Stove means? a lot of you long time fans know. Before some of the other sports became popular Baseball was “The Game”. Most kids who were gifted with athletic ability wanted to be big league ballplayers. All the major league teams were in the East and midwest. Cold in the winter. So, men sat around a hot stove at the local general store and started talking about what their team needed to improve the next season. That was called the Hot Stove season. We’re in it now.

I was just thinking about some things that have happened since the end of the World Series and thought I’d share them with you. First, a sad item. My former teammate and friend Bob Forsch passed away last Thursday night at his home in Florida. Most of you have probably read about it. “Forschie” was a great teammate and a classy, stable individual…notice how most of us players or former players all have nicknames that have an ‘ie’ or “y” at the end. like little kids. Which is what we are and always want to be. “Forschie” was one of those quiet competitors. Didn’t show a lot of outward emotion but had that determined game face on the day he pitched. This was a real shocker. No apparent medical issues. Had settled into a nice position with the Reds coaching in the minor leagues. Looked great throwing out the cermonial 1st pitch before game 7 of the World Series. My friend Tim McCarver has often said to me after sad news like this, “We’re all like snowflakes.” All of a sudden we’re just gone. Sad but true. I try my best to cherish the memories I have of great ffriends and teammates I’ve had that have died.Thurman Munson, my Yankee teammate and friend in 1979, Zoilo Versalles, Earl Battey, Cesar Tovar, Bob Allison, Harmon Killebrew, my teammates from the 1965 AL Champion Twins. Many more. Not to get ‘preachy’ but these losses are reminders to live life to the fullest way you know which I hope is to treat people the right way, be thankful if we’re healthy and vibrant. Next year Whitey Herzog is planning a reunion celebrating the 30th anniversary of the 1982 St. Louis Cardinal World Series Champions.Those of us that will be fortunate enough to be there will reminisce about ‘Forschie” and “Snivy”. That was Darrel Porter’s nickname. Don’t know why. He was just 50 when he passed away.

On to happier news. I mentioned to Jim Thome at the Baseball Players Alumni dinner this past Thursday what a cool thing it would be for him to join his mentor Charlie Manuel in Philadelphia because of Ryan Howard’s injury. He didn’t react at all. Poker faced. And lo and behold, that’s where he’s going. I don’t know how strongly the Twins will pursue keeping “Cuddy”, Michael Cuddyer’s nickname; but if the Phillies signed him they would have 2 of the classiest, most stable players in baseball. He and Jim Thome.

Awards time. Glad I don’t vote..some tough choices….I wish the MVP award was named the ” Player of the Year”..reserved for position players only. That would make it easier. Pitcher’s have the Cy Young. But it is the MVP. hard to go against Verlander. Of course, being a former pitcher, I tend to think they’re very valuable even though they don’t perform everyday. Has anyone been more valuable to one team than Mariano Rivera for the past 15 years??
Clayton Kershaw seems like an obvious choice for NL Cy Young. MVP?? Braun, Kemp, Fielder, Pujols..be interesting to see who the writers choose. I find it hard to speculate on who some of potential winners without talking to their teammates and opponents. They’re the one’s who really know the best choices.

Well, the Hot Stove season has begun. More things to blog about every week from now intil spring training starts in February.

Oh what a night

Not late December back in ’63 like The Four Seasons sang, but last night in New York City at the Milennium Broadway where the Legends for Youth Dinner was held. It is a project of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association.

It was extra special for me for a few reasons. I was the second president of the MLBPAA. They’ve had just three. The first was Jim Hannan, a former Major League pitcher and one of the 17 founders of the Alumni Association. The current one is Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson.

Because of my efforts back in the formative years of the Association, the MLBPAA presented me with a Lifetime Achievement Award. I was probably more qualified for the “Start Me Up” award. I got involved in the late 1980s between jobs as a TV announcer. The main thing I did was recognize that of the handful of employees we had at that time, Dan Foster seemed to me to be the one who really had the welfare of the Association in his heart. He had a passion for it and I trusted him. I recommended to the board that we retain Dan and eliminate the rest. We were a bare-bones operation at that point. I was paid expenses only and Dan would become the only paid employee. We had a couple hundred dues-paying members at that time.

Fast-forward to today… Dan has done a fantastic job leading the organization. There are now over 6,000 members. Former players and baseball employees from many different departments have joined, as well as current players — and there is also a membership category for fans. That’s what made last night rewarding for me.

The award was nice, but the real joy was to see the cross-section of those who attended. Former players highlighted by all-time Yankee favorite Don Mattingly and a pair of Hall of Famers (Brooks Robinson and Orlando Cepeda). Brooks presented the community service award named for him to Jim Thome. Executive Sandy Alderson attended. Current players who were nominated for the Alumni Heart and Hustle Award: Michael Cuddyer of the Twins, Neal Walker of the Pirates, Ian Desmond of the Nationals, and the winner: Torii Hunter of the Angels.

I mixed and mingled with former teammates Jim Lonborg, Larry Christenson, and Bob Boone. The Players Association was represented by former player Steve Rogers, and people from MLB.TV, MLB.com, and the league office were there. B.A.T., or Baseball Assistance Team — the organization that helps former players who have special needs — was represented. This is why that was so rewarding to me. In our early days, we were not totally accepted by some of the other baseball organizations. Now, we are all on the same page, tugging the rope in the same direction. As it should be.

Our mission is to involve former players in various activities to promote the game of baseball and support charitable causes. It is being done worldwide with clinics, golf events, and autograph sessions. One example was when colorful auctioneer Jon Warden, a member of the 1968 World Champion Detroit Tigers, asked us to raise our bidding paddles if we would be willing to give $50 to provide a baseball clinic for a day for kids who could not afford to do that . One bidder pledged to sponsor 50 kids! That’s $2,500. Several sponsored 10, and many sponsored smaller numbers.

As Jon said, “Once a Major Leaguer, always a Major Leaguer” — whether you were there for a day, a year or a decade. Another reason the night was special. No member carries more importance than another, whether he is a Hall of Famer or a player who played for just a short time. Special for me was the person who presented my award. My friend and broadcast partner on MLB Network, Bob Costas, did that as well as help emcee the event along with another friend/announcer, Gary Thorne.

Well, I think you get the picture. It was a great night for baseball. I’m very fortunate to have been a part of it.

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.

Alter the box scores?

Reading box scores has always been a hobby for a lot of avid baseball fans. It was for me growing up before TV and the internet made it easier to stay current with your favorite team or players. As a former pitcher I can tell you one of the most satisfying things to see the day after you’ve pitched is to look at the box score and see..Winning Pitcher..with your name after it.My friend, the late Joe Niekro, would hoist an adult beverage after he was credited with a win and say “Another one in the left hand [winning] column.” Conversely, no matter if you pitched well like C.J. Wilson did last night it’s disappointing to see…Losing Pitcher..with your name after it…

I had that feeling 237 times during my career and twice more in World Series play. Last night’s game reminded of  the days when pitcher’s were the decision makers as to who to pitch to and when to walk someone. It didn’t always come from the bench. The situation in the bottom of the 6th inning last night brought back memories of that. Now…..please don’t read into this that I am second guessing Ron Washington or C.J. Wilson, if it was his idea to walk Nick Punto with Chris Carpenter on deck. It happened earlier in the game and Chris struck out to end the inning. It seemed the obvious reason was to get Carpenter out of the game and Ogando into it to face Allen Craig.

From a pitcher’s point of view I always liked to get the #8 hitter out and have the pitcher leading off the next inning…If you can do that a couple times a game it makes it more difficult for the leadoff man to get something started….Reflecting back on the 1982 season for a moment. I was fortunate enough to be a part of that team when we won the World Series. Ozzie Smith was our shortstop and a lot of times was our #8 hitter. One of the many subtle things that aren’t in the box score is how many times the #8 hitter gets a 2 out hit, the pitcher most of the time makes the 3rd out and Voila!  The lead off hitter becomes the lead off hitter you want leading off the next inning.

Ozzie seemed to do that a lot. They probably could dig up a stat on that…This enabled Lonnie Smith or maybe Willie McGee or Tommy Herr to lead off for us instead of the pitcher. Back to last night’s 6th inning. If I were on the mound I would have much preferred to go after Nick Punto in both instances that he came up with 1st base open and the pitcher due up next. Why? First, I would love to have been sitting next to Cardinal great Bob Gibson last night when the situation arose. I can hear Gibby saying…”.if my stuff isn’t good enough to challenge the # 8 hitter and get him out, what am I doing out here.” I would echo his thoughts.

No dispespect to Nick Punto. I have always appreciated him as a good player going back to his days when I saw him play with the Minnesota Twins. I think of him as “Pete Rose Lite”. He plays with that same intensity. known more for his fielding and doing the little things like bunting a man over, hit and run, hit it to the right side to advance a runner..but not driving in a lot of runs…In pitcher’s pregame meetings when the #8 hitter’s name came up we would usually say…’he’s hitting 8th for a reason’…..I could almost see the smile on Mark McGwire’s face last night when Allen Craig got his chance. Mac thinks Craig will be an RBI machine in the near future. Maybe in this series.

So, here’s my point. If Ogando gets Craig out it looks like a good decision. But did C.J. Wilson have any input in whether or not to walk Punto or go after him? I don’t know. I don’t hear that question asked very often after games anymore. It’s an example of a starting pitcher being a pawn in the strategy of getting strong bullpens to match up against opposing hitters and as Tony LaRussa says, and he’s a master at it, ” I want to make it as difficult as I can for the opposing team to score”. I did read where C.J. said, “he didn’t chase” “was I suppose to throw him a fastball down the middle.?” If it were me that answer would have been a resounding YES…maybe not down the middle but trust your stuff that you can get him out and get the pitcher or pitcher’s spot in the batting order leading off the next inning. Maybe that’s why I have 237 losses next to my name.

So , did CJ deserve to be called the losing pitcher. If the decision to walk Punto or “pitch around him” came from the bench , NO….As Tim McCarver said on the FOX telecast, pitcher’s are trained to throw strikes and now you’re asking him to purposely throw balls. near the strike zone, but balls. It’s hard to do and often a pitcher will give up a hit doing that because he doesn’t throw the pitch with conviction. Aims it. doesn’t have crispness to it. When Bill Rigney, one of my former manager’s would come to the mound and hem and haw about pitching around a certain hitter, my response was quickly, “Do you want me to walk him or get him out”.? “Rig’ was the 1st manager I had that didn’t let me decide that myself in most instances. Again, that’s why the box score say’s Winning or Losing pitcher, not Winning or Losing manager. I felt for CJ last night. He may not have had a chance to determine his fate.

And please, it’s not to 2nd guess Ron Washington’s decision. If I were to see “Wash’ today, I’d give him a hug and tell him what a great job he has done and is doing with the Rangers. It’s just an example of how little decisions in baseball games can affect the outcome and they’re magnified in post season play. And when you see who the Winning and Losing pitchers are they’re often affected by decisions from the bench and not their own. As we see everyday during the regular season and more so in the post season, it’s a more specialized game and controlled from the bench as much as from the mound.

HMMM..THIS COULD BE INTERESTING

This World Series might be the most difficult to get an idea of who you would say is favored to win or how it could play out. The players on these teams have not competed against each other very often, some never; nor have the teams. Many Texas Rangers will get their 1st look at Busch Stadium, many Cardinals their 1st look at The Ballpark in Arlington. Advantage: Pitchers in their own park.

Why? Hitters like to feel comfortable at the plate and some of that comfort is the hitters background in center field and how the ball looks to them coming out of the pitchers hand. They’ll get some swings in practice today to get a feel for it. Also, the hitters will be seeing pitchers they haven’t faced very often if ever. Again, advantage pitchers.

A pitcher always has an edge facing a hitter for the 1st few times at bat. [I think we noticed how comfortable the hitters in the NLCS were facing pitchers they had faced a lot this season, what to look for and where to look for it. The starters had to be 'spot on' to be effective.]  They haven’t seen how the ball looks coming at them, how their breaking pitches look, judging the speed. A good reason for Pitchers to ‘trust their stuff’ and throw a lot of ‘strike one’s’..get ahead and stay ahead. always a good approach no matter the hitter or the importance of the game.

My best example of experiencing that was the 1965 World Series when I was pitching for the Minnesota Twins and facing the LA Dodgers and hooking up against the greatest pitcher of my baseball lifetime, Sandy Koufax. The scout that signed me, Dick Weincek, was our advance scout. He had some detailed information. I said,”Dick, no disrespect for what you’ve given me but they have never faced me and I’m going with my strengths and not be overly concerned with their weaknesses.”

It worked fine the 1st time I faced them. We won 5-1, I pitched a complete game and my theory worked. A couple of side stories about that series. According to my baseball trivia experts the 1965 series was the last one where every win was a complete game performance by the winning pitcher. Mudcat Grant, myself, Claude Osteen, Don Drysdale, Koufax, Mudcat again and then Koufax again shutting us out on 2 days rest. he also shut us out in game 5. And, to give you an idea of how little national TV exposure baseball had during the regular season and before interleague play began, these games were the 1st time I had ever seen Sandy Koufax pitch in person and only in the 1963 series did I see him on television.

After 3 innings of watching him in game 2, I said to our pitching coach, Johnny Sain, “If I give up a run, this game’s over”. That’s how good he was and I was right. We were fortunate enough to score 1st in game 2 and win but in games 5 & 7, no chance. Both 9 inning complete game shutouts.

Contrast that to my 1982 World Series experience where Mike Caldwell of the Brewers pitched a complete game in game 1 and my teammate, John Stuper pitched a gutsy complete game win in game 6 through a few rain delays. Bruce Sutter was our closer that year and the Hall of Famer did what great closers do and saved game 7 to give us the series win.

Bill Lee, former lefty for the RedSox, quoted Buckminster Fuller during one of our visit years ago when I had mentioned that the complete game was becoming more and more the exception than the rule. The quote, ” Specialization breeds extinction”. And the complete game in world series play has become close to extinct.

So…..this brings us to the 2011 World Series. It seems like the winner will be determined by whose relief pitchers are most effective. The Cardinal relief corps has made an amazing turnaround when you consider all the leads they gave up during the season. Tony La Russa and his pitching coach, Dave Duncan, have been masters at matching up relievers vs. hitters since the 80’s in Oakland when they had Dennis Eckersley to save games and Gene Nelson, Rick Honeycutt, Todd Burns all getting key outs in the last 3 innings to set things up for “Eck”. Ron Washington has moved Ogando into the bullpen where he was last year and he is a great asset for Texas. He can pitch a few innings and be effective against righty’s and lefty’s.

How about these lineups where the LCS MVPs hit at the bottom of the batting order. Deep and powerful lineups with Texas having a little edge when you compare the season stats of both lineups. If one of the starting pitchers figures out how to work through these lineups a couple of times and hold them to a couple runs they could be the series mvp and be responsible for their team winning. If CJ Wilson finds a pattern and some holes in the Cardinal  hitters he can exploit that could be helpful to Derek Holland and Matt Harrison…They’re all lefties. Chris Carpenter is who he is. Tough,seasoned veteran, not intimidated by any hitter. If he’s sharp and wins games 1 and 5, he’s your mvp. So many possibilities. The beauty of post season baseball is it’s so unpredictable. Nolan Ryan, that wily ‘ol fox, has said his Rangers will win in 6. Why would he say that? Because it diverts the attention and pressure from the players to him. He knows what he’s doing.

For me, this is a win-win, happy either way series. I love what the Rangers and Ron Washington and pitching coach, Mike Maddux have done. Mike is on his way to being to “Wash” what Dave Duncan is to LaRussa. I like the way Nolan Ryan has made a decision to take the dreaded pitch count out of play and allow the Texas starters to work out of jams late in the game. I love what the Cardinals have done because from playing there in the early 80’s and being on the 1982 team that won the World Series, I know what a great baseball town St. Louis is, I think of it as more a town than a city;  with classy, passionate fans. Both have ownership groups that carry themselves with dignity.

I hope we get to see great competition which is a trademark of Tony LaRussa’s teams. He preaches competing, every pitch, every at bat, every inning. That’s how they came back from the baseball dead. Texas manager Ron Washington is a guy you can’t help but root for, passionate, openly excited for his players when they do well in a controlled, tasteful manner. I couldn’t root for either of these teams to not win.

The deciding factor could turn out to be the big flaw in determining home field advantage. The NL winning the All Star game. That means more than winning your division and having the best record of the 2 teams? That’s wrong. Hope good baseball men address and change that in the off-season. But, despite that flaw, I’m going to sit back and watch two teams that are there because they deserve to be and watch for those subtle little things that I like to look for that can determine who wins. A pitch here, a play there, a timely hit, a key stolen base. Let the games begin.

MY APOLOGIES

MY APOLOGIES TO THE FAMILY AND FRIENDS OF DAN WHELDON AND ALL RACING FANS. AT THE TIME I POSTED MY BLOG ABOUT WHAT A GREAT DAY SUNDAY WAS FOR A SPORTS FAN  I WAS NOT AWARE OF THE TRAGIC ACCIDENT AND SUBSEQUENT DEATH OF DAN  IN THE RACE IN LAS VEGAS.  HAVING BEEN A TEAMMATE AND FRIEND OF THURMAN MUNSON, THE YANKEE CAPTAIN WHO WAS KILLED IN  A PLANE CRASH IN 1979, I AM VERY AWARE OF THE SHOCK AND SADNESS PEOPLE FEEL WHEN THEY HEAR ABOUT THE DEATH OF AN ATHLETE WHO WAS NEAR AND DEAR TO SO MANY PEOPLE. WE TEND TO THINK OUR SPORTS HEROS ARE IMMUNE TO TRAGEDIES THAT WE READ ABOUT THAT HAPPEN EVERY DAY.

WITH ALL THE JOYS OF VICTORY AND DISAPPOINTMENTS OF DEFEAT THE ACCIDENT IN LAS VEGAS PUTS LIFE IN IT’S PROPER PERSPECTIVE. THEY’RE ALL JUST GAMES. LIFE IS MORE PRECIOUS THAN A GAME.

HEARFELT CONDOLENCES TO DAN’S WIFE AND CHILDREN. WORDS SEEM SO HOLLOW AT A TIME LIKE THAT BUT ALL WE COULD TELL DIANE MUNSON AFTER THURMAN’S  DEATH WAS…..CHERISH THE MEMORIES.

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