Results tagged ‘ Cardinals ’

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.

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.

Reflections and musings from the first few Postseason games

Wow! What great baseball we’re getting a chance to see and enjoy. Not perfect, but exciting and enjoyable. As I watch the games and read the articles before and after the games filled with quotes from managers and players it triggers many thoughts and emotions. Sometimes I wish that I could relent and give in to the present day philosophies. Science over Art. But, I can’t.

I don’t care for the word “purist,” I can accept traditionalist and I’m all for progress if it benefits the game and makes it better. But, as I see it, it doesn’t always make it better. I guess I’d call myself a fan that enjoys the simlplicity of the game. throw it, field it, hit it and see who wins. I like the KISS theory. Printed those 4 letters in my glove in the 60′s. [KeepItSimpleStupid]. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy seeing the things that affect winning or losing a baseball game whether it is in May, July, or on the national stage in October

Whether it’s 1945 or 2011, lttle things mean a lot. I have followed this great game since 1945. Tigers beat the Cubs in 7. Last time the Cubs were in the Fall classic. I was 7 years old and I remember it like it was yesterday. Tigers had a big first inning and won game 7 and the series. Greenberg, Newhouser, Caverretta were some of the player’s names. Eventually I had their baseball cards in the spokes of my bicycle wheels.

I give you that background because not a lot has changed in terms of what determines who wins or loses. Throw strikes, catch it when they hit it to you, make accurate throws, try to make solid contact and put the ball in play. As some of my minor league managers and big league pitching coaches told me,” Do the ordinary things in an extraordinary fashion” and you’ll be fine. In simple terms, do the basic fundamental things consistently well. The game was more of a player’s game until the late 80′s. it was art. Pitchers and hitters had distinctive motions and stances and  the game was played by feel and instinct and what was in your heart and stomach meant more than a printout of what happened in the past and influenced manager’s decisions on who to play and pitch and where to position players in the field.

Why did it change? computers? detailed scouting reports? Better educated executives, managers and players? I don’t know. Like the crafty lefthander of the 50′s and 60′s, Curt Simmons,  said. ‘ play’em a step to pull or a step the other way’. Abner Doubleday put’em where they are for a reason. Or, as Branch Rickey, the innovator of the farm system, said to pitchers, “Throw strikes for 5 innings and lower strikes for 4 more” You’ll win a lot of games.

Now…..I know it’s not that simple but when  I look at the results of the 1st few games of this post season I see examples of science taking over for art and feel and not always for the better. Example, Rick Porcello pitched a terrific game game for the Tigers Wednesday in game 4. He deserved a win but repeatedly throwing to 1st base with Elvis Andrus posing a threat to steal 2nd may have cost him and his team the win. Was he throwing to 1st base a gazillion times because the bench signaled for him to do it? I hope not.

That seems to be what pitchers deal with in today’s game of science over art. all kinds of signs from the bench, countless trips to the mound to scramble a pitcher’s brain that’s already moving at warp speed because of the pressure of the situation. Who knows better than the guy with the ball that’s closer to the action than the bench whether the runner on 1st has taken too big of a lead?  As Woody Hayes, the late football coach at The Ohio State University said about the forward pass. 3 things can happen and 2 of them are bad. same thing with throwing to 1st for a pitcher. a balk or a wild throw happen more often than a pickoff. Vary your time that you pause in the set position, step off the rubber if you’re not comfortable , don’t give the runner the satifaction of thinking he’s important. If he steals what are the percentages that he’ll score??. There’s a number I never see on the tv screen. only what % a catcher has of throwing out runners which are most of the time because the pitcher didn’t get him the ball in time to make a decent throw.

Whew! I’m venting a little more than I thought but I just wish they would let the players play and put the fielders in normal positions, [maybe Mark Kotsay and Corey Hart would have caught those 2 fly balls in the 1st inning of the Cards/Brewers game 3].   I am so thankful I played in an era where you looked in the box score the day after a game and saw that you were a winning pitcher or a losing pitcher because of what you did not because people who weren’t on the field of play made decisions that determined your success or failure. If you wanted your right fielder to play a little shallow, you looked out and waved him in a little. It was your game on the day you pitched. you pitched with your gut and your heart and your instincts. Pitching and playing was an art not a science.

And when it was over you and your teammates had the satisfaction of  saying, ‘we laid it all on the line for better or worse’, “We’re not going to blame it on the manager, the coaches or any computer printout that gave us a notebook full of information about what happened in the past but couldn’t predict the future”. Like Ozzie’s homerun in 1985 from the left side of the plate….look up those percentages. First time in how many thousand lefthand AB’s? Or when Nolan had a lead in the 7th against the Phillies in 1980 and the Phillies won the game. he had never given up the lead when he led in the 7th up to that game. It’s about what’s going to happen today not what happened in the past and I sure wish today’s players could have more to say about the outcome.

Oh, and one more thing. Commissioner Bud, I call him Bud because we have known each other for a long time going back to when I was privileged to be a rather insignificant member of the 1982 St. Louis Cardinals that defeated his Milwaukee Brewers in the World Series; could you demand that clubs put a moratorium on announcements of hirings and firings until the World Series is over so we don’t have to hear during or between innings or read about who is going where and why and we can watch and read about the players who make it possible for us to enjoy fall baseball..

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