Sunday, October 31, 2004

Where's the love?

Many weeks ago I sent Andy and Jason an e-mail about the 1984 Tigers. I forget how the idea came to me but it was one of the things that spawned the idea of this blog. The three of us think about baseball a lot and wanted an outlet to share these ideas. We do some e-mailing but never take a lot of time for any deeper looks.

Frankly, we're all probably too busy right now to do deep analysis anyway, even with the outlet. Nonetheless, I wanted to write a little bit about the 1984 Tigers, a fantastic team that I feel has been overlooked.

For Boston fans, it's understandable. That Detroit has not won a World Series in 20 years, well, who cares? Red Sox fans don't even recognize that White Sox fans have waited 87 years. And that will be my last gripe on this issue. :)

The Tigers started the 1984 season by steamrolling everyone in their path. Through May they were 37-9 and were ten games ahead of everyone in their division except for the Blue Jays. They were dominating in every fashion, leading the league in run scored and fewest runs allowed. They went a very respectable 67-49 the rest of the season taking the division by fifteen games and then defeating the Royals and Padres in the postseason.

Right there may be part of the reason this team is forgotten. The Padres and the Royals? Neither team has had a legacy of postseason success. Also, with the lack of a pennant race interest during the season from folks who were fans of AL East teams may have been minimal. Oh, for the want of a wild-card game!!!

That Tigers team had four players who can present cases for Hall of Fame induction; ace starting pitcher Jack Morris, batterymate Lance Parrish and the longtime double play combo of shortstop Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker. Designated hitter Darrell Evans is arguably qualified as well.

Jack Morris was a pitcher who knew how to win. Season after season he would post lackluster numbers compared to peers considered more dominant but every year he would have plenty of wins. Morris won ten or more games fourteen times in his career, including twenty three times. He wasn't pretty. He didn't overpower hitters (the only time he led the league in strikeouts was a season where he pitched almost 300 innings). He wasn't a control artist. He surrendered a ton of home runs. You look at his numbers and you have to wonder how he won over 250 games.

Morris had a knack for pitching well enough to keep his team in the game. He could throw nine innings start after start. Morris, maybe more than any pitcher of his era, exhibited a desire to let his team win the game for him. Morris was a conduit of success, not the source of it. He could let hitters put the ball in play knowing he had great fielders like Whitaker and Trammell and Gibson behind him. He could give up a home run because his teammates would get it back, or more likely had already given him the lead. What made Morris a great pitcher can not be displayed statistically. We don't know the thought processes he went through. All we can do is recognize that he was an anomaly, aa person who could get a win when it mattered.

If not for the 1992 playoffs, one in which Morris pitched as a "hired gun" for the Toronto Blue Jays, he may be better remembered for getting the wins that mattered. Until 1992, Morris was 7-1 in playoff appearances, including 4-0 in the World Series. His 1-0, ten inning victory in game 7 of the 1991 World Series for the Minnesota Twins was legendary. The next season he lost three games in the playoffs including both World Series games he pitched.

Maybe if he could have ended his career after 1991, he would have been a lock for the Hall. Even still, he should be in. So let's take some time to show Jack the love and remember his fantastic pitching accomplishments.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

The end of an era

My Cardinals lost. The Red Sox won. Two crushing developments, and I'm not just talking about changing a Farrelly brothers movie ending. One of the most interesting stories in baseball is over, and everyone is celebrating. Well, I for one am not.

Alas, poor Red Sox Nation, I knew them well Horatio. A group of infinite hope, they bore their team upon their back a thousand times.

Now, they are winners. There is no tragedy. Hamlet has survived and fought off Fortinbras' legions to save Denmark. And they all live happily ever after. Yeah, a regular Spielbergian adventure. E.T. gets to go home!

Give me Kubrick or Scorsese anytime.

The Red Sox were the losing team that never deserved to lose. The success of the Yankees was initially created by a loser owner who needed cash. Not the fault of the players or the fans, but they were the ones who suffered. And it's not like they had bad players. They had arguably the best hitter of all time, Ted Williams. They had Doerr, Tiant, Yaz, Clemens, Boggs, Oil Can, Lynn, Rice, Dewey, Pedro and many more, those are just the few that come to mind for me as I sit here in my coffeshop listening to Miles Davis. I'm not even a Red Sox fan. (Probably obvious since I am still listing Clemens as a Red Sox player.)

No offense to my esteemed colleague, but who cares about the White Sox? This is a team more known for its promotions than its products on the field. Plus, they brought it on themselves - by having the players betray them in the notorious Black Sox scandal of 1919. You gamble, you deserve to lose, and that seems like a worthy argument, though not necessarily fair.

Sissyphus has finally rolled the boulder to the top of the hill. He is free! He is normal! He is pedestrian. The Red Sox are no longer that fun, unique team. They are now enshrined in the recent winners of the World Series club. Since 1980, this group includes the Phillies, the Dodgers, the Cardinals, the Orioles, the Tigers, the Royals, the Twins, the Mets, the Reds, the Athletics, the Braves, the Marlins, the Blue Jays, the Diamondbacks and the Angels. Now the Red Sox. Once they were a team without peer - now they are the same as 50% of major league baseball teams. Once they were one of the storied teams elevated by the mystery of a 'curse' and incredible bad luck, now they are like the Reds, Tigers or Pirates. Teams with great players and great histories that have won championships. Yippee! Be like the Reds!

But, I am sure the fans are happy with their trade of a championship for their unique status. They are happy and satisfied for the first time in many fans lifetimes. But, now in your moment of euphoria, please, don't get rid of Fenway now that you have a winner. Please. I know the owners will try to convince you, but I haven't been yet. I want to be able to see a game there and witness the most unique ball park in baseball. I will try to make it in the next year, because I doubt that Red Sox Nation will be able to hold out for very long.

Well, congratulations to the Red Sox. Now the teams to root against has shrunk as the tragedy of the world of baseball finally has a happy ending. Well, at least I can still follow the comedy of baseball - the Cubs. Believe me, I hope that bit of comedy lasts longer than the careers of Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis and Redd Foxx combined.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Cards fans are slightly delusional

As one would expect, my first post to this site will concern the Red Sox. And so will my second, and probably my third. After all, 34 years of waiting (not gonna say 86 because I haven’t been around that long, and that’s a silly argument anyway) provides a lot of material.

First, let me say that I am a Cardinals fan – I have been since getting married to a Cardinals fan nine years ago. I like the team, the tradition, most of the players and sometimes the manager.

But after the Red Sox sweep (hang on a sec, gotta let that sink in….OK), Cards fans were saying three things – 1) our pitching let us down; 2) our MV3 (as the local media has tagged Rolen, Edmonds and PooHoss) let us down; 3) it’s too bad people didn’t get a chance to see the real Cardinals.

There is no arguing with option 2 above – those three players certainly didn’t come through when needed, or even when not needed. I would argue (and will in a later post) that part of that a reflection of facing a) one of the best pitchers of this generation, at least for a stretch; and b) one of the best ‘big-game’ pitchers of the past five years.

However. It’s option No. 1 that kind of troubles me. The pitching didn’t let the Cardinals down – I would argue that the pitching performed about as well as expected, at least from a starters point of view.

Overall, the St. Louis Cardinals had a 3.75 ERA this year. But their starters came in at 4.08 in slightly fewer than 1,000 innings.

The best offense in the National League was, not surprisingly, the Cardinals. In terms of runs scored, the Giants were the best, but could manage no better than sixth overall in MLB. The Cards were seventh. The Phillies were ninth. All other teams in the top 10 were from the A.L.

Point being – the Cardinals pitchers didn’t face any offense this year even remotely as potent as the Boston Red Sox, which led the MAJORS with 949 runs, a .360 on-base percentage and a .472 slugging percentage. Not led the AL, not led the group of teams with foul lines less than 315 feet – led the entire major leagues.

Now, of the two other NL teams in the top 10 overall in runs scored, the Cards played just six games against each – admittedly a small sample size. But against Philadelphia, the Cards were 3-3 with a 4.74 ERA.

Against the Giants, the Cards were 3-3 with a 4.17 ERA.

But, against the top two offensive teams in their own division, against whom the Cards played a total of 37 games (a much greater sample size), the Cards were 11-8 against Chicago with a 4.93 ERA, and were 8-10 against Houston, with a 4.33 ERA.

Houston was 14th in the majors with 803 runs, and 12th in both on-base (.342) and slugging (.436), while Chicago was 16th with 789 runs, 23rd in OBP at .328, but third in slugging at .458. The other teams in the Cards' division don’t even warrant a mention, placing no higher than 19th in any one category.

The simple answer would be to say yeah, but NL teams feature pitchers in the lineup, so of course their runs and averages will be lower.

That is only partially correct. While watching the Astros/Cards series, after Jeff Kent batted, it was all over for the Astros – with the black holes that are Vizcaino, Ausmus and whichever pitcher batting, pitchers knew they were facing a six-man lineup – sometimes even five, given the way Ensberg was hitting this year. None of those four guys do you have to pitch overtly carefully to.

Same goes for the Dodgers – with just two and a half hitters dangerous, pitchers could save some of their best stuff for later.

Look around the NL – the worst offenses can all be found there (Arizona, Milwaukee, Cincy, Pittsburgh, Montreal) and you can’t blame it all on the pitchers.

What it boils down to is that the Red Sox, this year, featured one of the most explosive offenses in recent years. There were no easy outs. No Vizcainos, No Robby Hammacks. The Cards hadn’t faced that all season, and responded accordingly.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Top Ten Reasons why the Red Sox World Series Victory Shouldn't Count

10. Because they won it the New York Yankees way (ka-ching), and certainly no Red Sox fan can tolerate that.
9. The Red Sox reached the World Series because of the Bud Selig-created bastardization of playoff games, the wild-card.
8. No one even talked about thawing out Teddy Ballgame so he could celebrate
7. The effects of the Curse of Pedro's midget haven't kicked in yet
6. Too strange to think of Boston fans going outside this afternoon and saying "Is it me or does the sky look wicked blue today?"
5. No drug test results back from Curt Schilling yet. "Painkillers". Mmmhmm.
4. I don't get teary eyed hearing Orlando Cabrera thanking "Beautiful".
3. Overshadowed the big baseball news last night: Rafael Palmeiro resigned with the Orioles.
2. Because Johnny Damon is starting to think he really is Jesus
1. Because the White Sox deserve one first

Monday, October 25, 2004

Days of old

I haven't watched a whole lot of the playoffs. Maybe that's why I have been able to make such unsuccessful predictions. Baseball doesn't interest me a whole lot nowadays. I am far more interested in the history of the game. Some of that has to do with the way the game is played. Some of it has to do with my feeling like I was born a hundred years too late. I think a lot of what is missing from baseball comes from societal trends.

From the aspect of game play, I hate the home run. There has been one decent pitcher's duel in the playoffs this year, the game I chose to watch over the Red Sox-Yankees drama. It was so much fun watching Brandon Backe, a former positional player, thrive in the clutch and carry the Astros to victory both at the end of the regular season and in the playoffs.

Home runs are boring. I hate these slugfests where you sit and wait until someone gets served a mistake that can be crushed into the seats. Teams are foolish nowadays to have anybody in the lineup who cannot take a walk. When so many people can hit home runs with ease, why would you not want a player who can get on base? Who cares about speed anymore? What difference does good defense really make on balls hit over the fence. Baseball is largely miserable to watch nowadays. Bring back the steal, the sacrifice and the hit and run.

As much as I am a fan of the Deadball Era, I wouldn't mind the baseball of my childhood. When thirty home runs in a season was impressive. When you had guys like Willie McGee and Rickey Henderson and John Cangelosi who were fun to watch scamper around the bases, who impacted a game with their natural gifts instead of the artificial muscle-bound players we watch now.

Bring back the Astrodome and the Busch Stadium turf. Bring back Whitey Herzog. And Fernando. And Dave Rozema. Sigh.

I read a book this weekend by Dan Adams entitled Major Leaguers of Clinton County, Pennsylvania. Nine players have been born in Clinton County, which lies in the middle of PA. None have played in sixty years. The heydays were the 1880's when the county produced five players. Why was it such a hotbed then? Part of it was the local sewing machine company that existed there. The company had one of the top semi-pro baseball teams in the region, which produced several of the pitchers from Clinton County that played in the majors. When you had a team like that around, it made it easy for scouts and the baseball network to locate talent. It brought recognition to the town, the company and the region. There was a sense of community that does not exist today. What companies do anything beyond providing the most basic of benefits today? How many benefit the community beyond providing jobs and the occasional corporate sponsorship of a community event?

Can you imagine your employer giving you time to play baseball? Can you imagine feeling enough pride about your place of employemnt to want to do so? I'm sure there are probably some instances, especially among smaller companies, where such consideration for the area around the company is as important as the number of dollars profited. It's just not like it used to be.

Sure, things weren't perfect in the 1880's. Or the 1980's. But why are we so quick to let go of the good things that did exist? Is this really progress?

Saturday, October 23, 2004


Well, my phine pheathered Phillie phan, I see the worm has turned on Delta Guru. Truthfully, I understand your prediction. Roger Clemens is a great pitcher. The difference lay in someone you mentioned - Phil Garner. Now, his double switch to gain one place in the batting order for his pitcher in Game 7 didn't come back to haunt him, and it could be argued that Orlando Palmeiro is a better outfielder than Biggio, but it is still a very questionable move. The previous night he doubled switched for Lance Berkman so that Brad Lidge could pitch longer. Lidge is awesome, but for Berkman? If Lidge had pitched less on Wednesday, would he have been available to come in to face Rolen? Not sure - but those are moves that a manager controls directly. However, most of the blame that managers get is just undeserved.

As a Cardinal fan, I hear about the return to small ball, Whitey ball, bunting and the hit and run. Dagnabit, if your manager isn't doing these things, then he isn't trying. He's just sitting there. Doing nothing. Let's fire the good for nothing guy. Bring back Herzog!

The role of the manager, while important, is vastly overrated. I would say that the role of the GM is the biggest part of the success of the team, followed by the players and lastly the manager. Yet, here in Kansas City, and most everywhere, the first person on the chopping block is the manager (in this case Tony Pena, after he was a Manager of the Year candidate last year) followed by star players like Mike Sweeney. Why is this backwards?

1. The manager is the visible head of the club. Everyone sees him as the leader of the team (the exception might be Oakland's GM Billy Beane) and therefore the head of the club. If the team/company is doing poorly, you fire the leader. Easy. Everyone does it. At work, if things aren't going well, we blame it our bosses, or our bosses' boss and on down the line. Why? Well, for one thing, we read comics like Dilbert, which have a lot of truth in them from the view of the employee. But, they also teach us that our bosses are not needed and that the world would be better if we all ran things ourselves. Talk radio reinforces this in the sports world by giving the everyman a chance to say, "Here is what I would have done in that situation, because I am a learned man of the game." What are those actions suggested by the armchair manager? Well, they boil down to two basic kinds of decisions - the pre-game decisions and the game decisions.

2. The manager's decisions are easy to evaluate in terms of success. Let's say we are looking at Phil Garner. He made some interesting decisions in his starting rotation during the playoffs. In the divisional series he started Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalt on three days rest. There were a lot of questions on these decisions. He won - those questions were forgot. Questions about the rotation surfaced again, this time because he DIDN'T use Roger Clemens on short rest to pitch game 6 against the Cardinals and this time he lost - albeit in extra innings. So - this was a move that could be questioned. Why? The Astros lost. Easy to figure out if it was a success or not. Those successes and failures always seem to boil down to a single move or decision. (27 outs per side? I can't be expected to remember all of those. I just know the one out we did/didn't get that matters.)

Besides the starting pitcher, the manager is also responsible for the starting lineup. Who is in and in what order are open for questions. If a player hits extra base hits from a position in the lineup where there was no one on base in front of him - and he is not driven home - well then his spot in the lineup is wrong. You always put speed at the top of the order, power in the middle and your lesser hitters at the bottom of the order. If a manager deviates from this (Brian Downing leading off the game? Are you crazy?) well then fans can second guess the lineup. If a manager tries something new, he is open to the criticisms of talk radio - and so all managers conform nicely. Tony Womack has a 0.349 OBA? Well, he's fast, so put him at the top of the lineup. Case closed.

The manager's last pre-game responsibility is chemistry. Doesn't really have to do with playing the game, but I think you can look at the success of Joe Torre and the lack of success of Larry Bowa and see the importance of the perception of chemistry. Just like you can look at the A's of the 70s and fun loving Harvey Wall-banger Brewers of the late 70s and 80s and see how important chemistry is in winning championships.

So we move to game decisions. The fan can evaluate these at the drop of the hat. Grady Little didn't take out Pedro in time? He gave up a home run? Well, then it is Grady's fault obviously. The manager asked for a bunt and the batter wasn't successful in moving the runner to second? Well, everyone knows that you should swing away there and not give up an out. Man on first, no one out and the team doesn't score? Why don't you try the hit and run, Mr. Manager? My goodness, do something. We're not paying you to sit there and rock back and forth like Rain Man. Manage. Do anything, because if we don't win, it's your fault. Bring in a new pitcher. No, let him stay in - he's been great for us all year. He's a gamer.

So, there is an instant where we know if a manager is a success or not. Some decisions everyone seems to agree were wrong (see Grady Little.) But, I would say that most would have the honest viewing fan split down the middle. There are arguments to be made for leaving in Roger Clemens instead of going to a decimated bullpen, and there is the argument that once he gave up the double, it was obvious that he had lost his edge. We now know which one was right. There is no uncertainty principle like there is at that perfect moment before a manager makes his decision. But after, there is plenty of time to second guess, because we all knew in our heart what would, and eventually did, happen.

To get to the point, these decisions are important. No question. (My favorite sports response, by the way. "Did you think that the hit by Player A was important in starting the rally?" "Oh, there's no question." "Wait, didn't I just ask you a question?" "Oh, there's no question." I could go on for days.) I can't leave the manager completely blameless. But, there are more important factors.

1. The players that a manager gets to manage. I think we can safely say that before he got to New York, Joe Torre was viewed as an average manager. Now, he is a Hall of Fame candidate. If you get to manage some of the players he has managed, and they all perform up to their potential, then it looks fantastic. Yes, part is due to the fact that the Yankees have unlimited cash and are a big market team (I'll explore that next week) but also that they had a nice core nucleus and more in the minors to trade for talent to plug holes. They haven't won the World Series in a few years, but they have been in the playoffs. The general manager has to be able to get the team to the playoffs and hope that the players can win it all. Which is the last point......

2. The players have to perform. If Pedro gets an out, what happens? If Mariano Rivera doesn't blow a save in this year's post season, and is successful like in the majority of past years, what happens? Players are fallible (see that 33% success is deemed great in the history of hitting in the game) and are excused. Who else can do what Mariano Rivera has done? Didn't Pedro get us to that point in the game? Look at what Mulder, Zito and Hudson did all year. I couldn't do that. They are special individuals with special talents. However, I know enough to get them out of the game. I can see when they are tired, and that is all I need to see. Everyone can see that.

Managers aren't given a chance to make a mistake. We can do what they can do and talk about it by the water cooler or on the phone to our new friends at KFANS or whatever your local radio call letters are. They have to be perfect. If not, it is obviously their pre-game and game decisions that led to defeat. Not the players that we have - that's a given - you have to make do with what you have. Not the players performance - hey he's a great player, just having an off night, week, month or year.

I started the post by pointing out a couple of moves that Garner made that I thought were questionable. If the Astros would have won either of the last two games, they would have been irrelevant. Maybe they took the Astros out of a position to win the game. But, a 3-run HR would have solved the same problems in those games as they did in Game 5.

Remember what the players say whenever they accept an award - "I accept this award on behalf of the team, because it is a team effort." It is also a team effort to lose - and the manager is the last in line for both winning and losing.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

How the Red Sox will lose the World Series

At this point, I don't kno who the Red Sox will play in the World Series. I do know that for all the "momentum" the Sox will be riding, the National League team will counter with the "lack of respect" emotional motivation as I may have been the only person, at least who is not a fan of any of the four Championship Series teams, who preferred watching the Cards-Stros game.

Frankly, I don't believe in emotion winning ballgames, especially over a multiple game series. Maybe Curt Schilling willed himself to be able to pitch Game 6, but whole teams? I don't see it.

My personal opinion is that the Astros will beat the Cardinals tonight. I see Clemens being able to shut down the Cardinals and I expect Phil Garner to unleash the run and gun Astros like he did to take out the Braves.

Regardless, the Red Sox don't have much of a chance and it comes down to pitching. Which Red Sox starter do you have confidence in leading the team to it's first World Series in 86 years? Pedro, now that he got his Daddy off his back? Schill the Gimp? Bronson "Don't call me Brandon, Tim McCarver" Arroyo? Derek Lowe?

I can see Lowe, especially if you're still running around with your head in the clouds after Game 7, but Lowe goes as far as his head takes him. Right now it's a tough call as to which is more fragile, his head or Schilling's ankle. Contrast that pair to the confidence of Brandon "Don't call me Bronson" Backe and the Astros aged power pitcher, Roger Clemens. Add in Oswalt over Pedro. I just cannot see the Red Sox winning.

I do think Manny has to perform better (0 RBI's against the Yankees) and Ortiz has to come down to normal levels a bit (which is still terrifying). Both NL teams have potent lineups as well and I don't think either NL team has a player that makes you cringe when the ball is hit into him in the field (but then again, maybe Manny is channeling the playoff greatness of Lonnie Smith). Mark Bellhorn at second base doesn't instill confidence in me either.

I've avoided addressing the Cardinals rotation for two reasons. One, I don't think they will move on. And two, who understands the Cardinals rotation? They get outs.

Well, welcome to this site. My co-bloggers, who root for the Cardinals and the Red Sox, may have something to say about my initial entry. I expect to have better analyses in the future but I wanted to be on record with my prediction of the Astros in five games over the Red Sox (Munro takes a loss).