The Nine Smartest Plays In World Series History

Inspired by Johnny Damon’s double-stolen base in Game Four on Sunday, I thought it was time to salute a part of the game rarely acknowledged and even more rarely listed among its greatest appeals to the fan. What they once quaintly called “good brain-work”: the nine Smartest Plays in World Series History.

We’ll be doing this on television tonight, illustrated in large part with the kind help of the folks behind one of the most remarkable contributions ever made to baseball history, The Major League Baseball World Series Film Collection, which comes out officially next week, and which, as the name suggests, is a DVD set of all of the official “films” of the Series since  ex-player Lew Fonseca started them as a service to those in the military in 1943. The amount of baseball history and the quality of the presentation (the “box” is by itself, actually a gorgeous Series history book) are equally staggering.

We start, in ascending order, with a famous name indeed, and Jackie Robinson’s steal of home in the eighth inning of the first game of the 1955 World Series. It is perhaps the iconic image of the pioneer player of our society’s history, but it was also a statement in a time when the concept was new. Ironically, the Dodgers were losing 6 to 4 when Robinson got on, on an error, moved to second on a Don Zimmer bunt, aggressively tagged up on a sacrifice fly.

Robinson was at third, but up for the Dodgers was the weak-hitting Frank Kellert. And, after all but taunting pitcher Whitey Ford and catcher Yogi Berra of the Yankees, Jackie seized the day, and broke for the plate. No catcher has more emphatically argued a call, and no moment has better summed up a player, his influence, or the changes he would bring to the game.

Ironically, that was the last run the Dodgers would score and they would lose the game. But the steal set a tone for a different Brooklyn team than the one which had tried but failed to outslug the Yankees in their previous five World Series meetings. The Dodgers would win this one, in seven games.

The eighth play on the list is another moment of base-running exuberance. In a regular season game in 1946, Enos “Country” Slaughter, on first base, had been given the run-and-hit sign by his St. Louis Cardinals’ manager Eddie Dyer. Slaughter took off, the batter swung and laced one into the outfield. As Slaughter approached third base with home in his sights, he was held up by his third base coach Mike Gonzalez. Slaughter complained to his skipper. He knew better than Gonzalez, he told Dyer, whether or not he could beat a throw home. Dyer said fine. “If it happens again and you think you can make it, run on your own. I’ll back you up.”

It indeed happened again – and in the bottom of the eighth inning of the seventh game of the 1946 Series! The visiting Red Sox had just tied the score at three, but Slaughter led off the inning with a single. Manager Dyer again flashed the run-and-hit sign, and Harry “The Hat” Walker lined Bob Klinger’s pitch over shortstop for what looked to everybody like a long single.

Everybody but Slaughter. He never slowed down. He may never have even seen third base coach Gonzalez again giving him the stop sign. When Boston shortstop Johnny Pesky turned clockwise to take the relay throw from centerfielder Leon Culberson, and, thus oddly twisted, could get little on his throw to the plate – Slaughter scored, the Cardinals led, and, an inning later, were World Champions.

The Red Sox should’ve seen it coming. Long before Pete Rose, Slaughter ran everywhere on the field, to the dugout and from it, on walks, everywhere. He said he had learned to do it in the minor leagues, when as a 20-year old he walked back from the outfield only to hear his manager say “Hey, kid, if you’re tired, I’ll get you some help.”

That manager was Eddie Dyer – the same guy who a decade later would encourage Slaughter to run any and all red lights.

The particulars of the seventh smartest play in Series history are lost in the shrouds of time: the 1907 Fall Classic between the Tigers and Cubs. This was the Detroit team of the young and ferocious Ty Cobb, but its captain was a veteran light-hitting third baseman named Bill Coughlin. In the first inning of the second game, Cubs’ lead-off man Jimmy Slagle walked, then broke for second base. Catcher Fred Payne’s throw was wild and Slagle made it to third. Coughlin knew the Tigers were in trouble.

There are two ways to do what Coughlin did next; we don’t know which he used. Later third basemen like Matt Williams were known to ask runners to step off the base so he could clean the dirt off it. Others, through nonchalance or downright misdirection, would convince the runner that they no longer had the ball. Which one Coughlin did, we don’t know. The Spalding Base Ball Guide for 1908 simply described it as “Coughlin working that ancient and decrepit trick of the ‘hidden ball,’ got ‘Rabbit’ Slagle as he stepped off the third sack. What the sleep of Slagle cost was shown the next minute when Chance singled over second.”

Coughlin snagged Slagle with what is believed to be the only successful hidden ball trick in the history of the Series.

 
Sixth among the smartest plays is another we will not likely see again. The New York Mets led the Baltimore Orioles three games to one as they played the fifth game of the 1969 World Series. But the favored Birds led that game 3-zip going into the bottom of the sixth. Then, Dave McNally bounced a breaking pitch at the feet of Cleon Jones of the Mets. Jones claimed he’d been hit by the pitch, but umpire Lou DiMuro disagreed – until Mets’ skipper Gil Hodges came out of the dugout to show DiMuro the baseball, and the smudge of shoe polish from where it had supposedly hit Jones. DiMuro changed his mind, Jones was awarded first, Donn Clendenon followed with a two-run homer, Al Weis hit one in the seventh to tie, and the Mets scored two more in the eighth to win the game and the Series.

But there were questions, most of them voiced in Baltimore, about the provenance of that baseball. Was it really the one that McNally had thrown? A nearly identical play in 1957 with Milwaukee’s Nippy Jones had helped to decide that Series. And years later an unnamed Met said that ever since, it had always been considered good planning to have a baseball in the dugout with shoe polish on it, just in case.

Today, of course, players’ shoes don’t get shined.

Hall of Fame pitcher, Hall of Fame batter, Hall of Fame manager, all involved in the fifth smartest play. But only two of them were smart in it. Reds 1, A’s nothing, one out, top of the eighth, runners on second and third, third game of the ’72 Series, and Oakland reliever Rollie Fingers struggles to a 3-2 count on Cincinnati’s legendary Johnny Bench. With great theatrics and evident anxiety, the A’s battery and manager Dick Williams agree to go ahead and throw the next pitch deliberately wide — an intentional walk.

Which is when Oakland catcher Gene Tenace jumps back behind the plate to catch the third strike that slides right past a forever-embarrassed Bench. As if to rub it in, the A’s then walked Tony Perez intentionally. For real.

Another all-time great was central to the fourth smartest play in Series history. With Mickey Mantle, you tend to think brawn, not brain, but in the seventh game of the epic 1960 Series, he was, for a moment, the smartest man in America. Mantle had just singled home a run that cut Pittsburgh’s lead over the Yankees to 9-to-8.  

With one out and Gil McDougald as the tying run at third, Yogi Berra hit a ground rocket to Pirate first baseman Rocky Nelson. Nelson, having barely moved from where he was holding Mantle on, stepped on the bag to retire Berra for the second out. Mantle, on his way into no man’s land between first and second, about to be tagged hi
mself for the final out of the Series, stopped, faded slightly towards the outfield, faked his way around Nelson, got back safely to first, and took enough time to do it, that in the process, McDougald could score the tying run.

Mantle’s quick thinking and base-running alacrity would have been one of the game’s all-time greatest plays – if only, minutes later, the 9-to-9 tie he had created, had not been erased by Bill Mazeroski’s unforgettable Series-Winning Home Run to lead off the bottom of the ninth.

 

Like the Mantle example, the gut and not the cerebellum is associated with the third smartest play in Series history. It’s Kirk Gibson’s epic home run to win the opening game of the 1988 classic. The story is well-known to this day; Gibson, aching, knees swollen, limping, somehow creeps to the batter’s box and then takes a 3-2 pitch from another hall of fame Oakland reliever, Dennis Eckersley, and turns it into the most improbable of game-winning home runs.

But the backstory involves a Dodger special assignment scout named Mel Didier. When the count reached 3-and-2, Gibson says he stepped out of the batter’s box and could hear the scouting report on Eckersley that Didier had recited to the Dodgers, in his distinctive Mississippi accent, before the Series began. On a 3-2 count, against a left-handed power hitter, you could be absolutely certain that Eckersley would throw a backdoor slider. He always did it. And as Gibson once joked, “I was a left-handed power hitter.”

So Gibson’s home run wasn’t just mind over matter. It was also mind. And it was also Mel Didier.

The second smartest play in Series history came in perhaps the greatest seventh game in modern Series history. The Braves and Twins were locked in their remorseless battle of 1991, scoreless into the eighth inning. Veteran Lonnie Smith led off the top of the frame with a single. Just like Enos Slaughter in 1946, he then got the signal to run with the pitch, and just like Harry Walker in 1946, his teammate Terry Pendleton connected.

But something was amiss at second base. Minnesota Shortstop Greg Gagne and second baseman Chuck Knoblauch were either completing a double-play, or they had decided they were the Harlem Globetrotters playing pantomime ball. Smith, at least momentarily startled by the infielders pretending to make a play on him at second, hesitated just long enough that he could not score from first as Enos Slaughter once had. He would later claim the Twins’ infielders hadn’t fooled him at all with their phantom double play – that he was just waiting to make sure the ball wasn’t caught.

But he never scored a run, nor did the Braves. The game, and the Series, ended 1-0 Minnesota, in the 10th inning on a pinch-hit single by Gene Larkin from — appropriately enough for the subject — Columbia University.
 
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All-stars and cup of coffee guys; fielders and hitters and baserunners and pitchers and even a scout, and stretching over a span of 102 years of Series history. And yet the smartest play is: from this past Sunday. Johnny Damon not only worked his way back from down 0-2 to a line single on the ninth pitch of the at bat against Brad Lidge, but he quickly gauged the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with which the Phillies had seemingly presented him. Few teams employ a defensive shift towards the left side or the right when there’s a runner on base. This is largely because if there is a play to be made at second or third, the fielders who would normally handle the ball are elsewhere. With Mark Teixeira up, the Phillies had shifted their infield, right.

So Damon realized.

If he tried to steal, the throw and tag would probably be the responsibility of third baseman Pedro Feliz. Feliz is superb at third base, fine at first, has experience in both outfield corners, and even caught a game for part of an inning. But his major league games up the middle total to less than 30 and this just isn’t his job. Even if Feliz didn’t botch the throw or the tag, his meager experience in the middle infield slightly increased the odds in Damon’s favor. The question really was, what would happen immediately afterwards, if Damon stole successfully: Where would Feliz go, and who would cover third base?

Damon chose a pop-up slide so he could keep running. Feliz took the throw cleanly, but did not stop his own momentum and continued to run slightly towards the center of the diamond. And nobody covered third base. All Damon needed was daylight between himself and Feliz, and Feliz would have no chance of outrunning him to third, and nobody to throw to at third.     

And all of that went through Johnny Damon’s mind, in a matter of seconds. Before anybody else could truly gauge what had happened, he had stolen two bases on one play without as much as a bad throw, let alone an error, involved. It is a play few if any have seen before, and it is unimaginable that any manager will let us ever see it again!

Thereafter, in a matter of minutes, the Yankees had turned a tie game, with them down to their last strike of the ninth inning, into a three-run rally that put them within one win of the World’s Championship. And all thanks to the Smartest Play in World Series History.

110 Comments

Hi Keith,

You said “We’ll be doing this on television tonight, illustrated in large part with the kind help of the folks behind one of the most remarkable contributions ever made to baseball history…”

When and where? What time, and what channel? Please let us know. :) Thanks!!

Hugs to you and your father – I hope he’s doing better.

this is what i like thanks for posting

Great stuff, by the way – sorry I forgot to mention that.
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i really like this page and its a great blog thanks for making this blog keep it up

Great stuff, by the way – sorry I forgot to mention that. :)

Mantle’s play was not only brilliant, without it we wouldn’t have that great moment of Mazeroski’s ball flying over Yogi Berra’s head and watching Maz fly around the bases.

By the way, if you check the box scores, Maz didn’t just win game 7 with a home run, he won game 1 with a home run as well… somehow that gets forgotten.

Great stuff as always. Thanks.

I will be watching live tonight although I normally watch you & Rachel on my TiVo so I can forward through the commercials.

Thanks again and I also hope your Dad is better.

Thank you for the answer, Keith! I didn’t realize it was going to be during the regular Countdown show – I thought you meant it was going to be on a different channel, on some show that had been pre-recorded. Looking forward to it!

Come On Keith, don’t you think you’re being a little too much of a homer with this list? What about Carlton Fisk’s 12th Inning Homer to Left in the ’75 World Series(Granted the Sox lost the series but in the same breathe Robinson’s steal of home didn’t win the game for the Dodgers.) As Honorable Mention: There’s Bob The Dominator Gibson’s masterpeice of 3 CG in the 67 World Series. As for this World Series I’d have to pick Cliff Lee’s Game 1 Pitching performance which might I add is close to Gibson’s 67 or Christy Mathewson’s ’05 masterpeices of pitching. (Disclaimer: As a Red Sox Fan it’s hard for me to give Johnny Damon any kind of praise after leaving Boston for more money and the Yankees, he will always be a traitor and a coward in my eyes.) :-)

jasonsunstein, I’m a Red Sox fan as well, but unlike you, I don’t mind tipping my cap to ex-Red Sox players who sign with the Yankees and then play in the World Series. But I fail to see where Damon’s steals merits one of the smartest plays in World Series history. It was definitely good heads up base running. But the smartest play? This is a little troubling.

Kirk Gibson’s home run and Damon’s steals were smarter plays than Carlton Fisk’s ’75 HR? A home run that extended the World Series to a 7th game? You don’t get much more clutch than that against the Big Red Machine. What about Bernie Carbo’s HR that tied the game? I’m not sure, but weren’t the Sox down by 3 when Carbo hit his? I don’t remember what inning he hit it, but I think it was late in the game. Didn’t Dwight Evans make a spectacular catch in the same game in the 11th inning and double off a runner @ first to keep the game tied? That was a pretty smart play as well.

Yes, I’m afraid the LA/NY media are at it once again. sigh. It must be October. No wait. It’s November. lol.

“You can learn little from victory. You can learn everything from defeat.” Christy Mathewson

1948braves, I hear what you’re saying… but home runs are more or less chance. You swing away and hope for the best in every at-bat, but you can’t plan a home run. But to pay attention to your surroundings enough to figure out what Damon did requires some serious thought. This is about the smartest plays – not the luckiest ones. Just my opinion. :)

Oops… with one caveat – Kirk Gibson’s home run was smart, not because it was a home run, but because he paid attention to what the scouting report said, and kept note of the pitches made. He knew what he was about to get because he paid attention, and was able to make something of it.

Heads-up plays, the small baseball, is what wins games and series. Home runs are great, but using your brain is the best part of teamwork.

olympictrees – Bernie Carbo used his brain. He fouled off quite a few pitches (I think). Also, he hit it in the 8th inning with two outs, the Sox trailing by 3 runs. Fisk if I recall fouled off quite a few pitches before hitting his HR as well. Dwight Evans used his brain. He threw the base runner out at first with a throw from right field. Kirk Gibson’s HR is a nice moment in baseball. A kodak moment. But it was just the first game of the World Series. There are quite a few “smart” plays out there besides Gibson’s homer and Damon’s steals. It’s not like Damon stole home and won the game. That I would definitely consider a very smart play.

I am looking forward to Keith’s segment. I love when he brings the topic of baseball to his program. Maybe he will change my mind.

But I doubt it.

Keith, you say that Damon’s play the other night was something that “few if any have seen before”. But something very similar happened just 6 years ago, also with the Yankees.

It was opening day of 2003, in Toronto. Jeter was on first, and the shift was on against Giambi. Giambi hit a ball back to the pitcher and was thrown out. Jeter ran to second and, seeing no one in front of him covering third, just kept running.

Now, in Jeter’s case, the Toronto catcher ran to third to take the throw from first, so Jeter was actually out at third. Also the catcher landed on Jeter’s shoulder and sent him to the DL for 6 weeks. So not as good a result, to be sure, but I think Jeter still gets “smart” credit for trying.

Keith, Damon’s play was good, smart, heads up baseball. However, with two outs, the difference between being on 2nd and 3rd is minimal. Damon’s baserunning set the tone and changed momentum, but it wasn’t even the deciding play in that game, let alone the series. For this reason, Damon’s “smartest play in World Series History” isn’t even the smartest play of the last two World Series’. Just last year, Chase Utley’s fielded a ball up the middle with two outs and a runner on 2nd and had the instincts to fake to first and then throw out Jason Bartlett who had rounded third for home. Bartlett was the potential go ahead run in the 7th inning of what was ultimately the clinching game for the Philadelphia Phillies. We’ve all seen baserunners advance to uncovered bases, but a fake to first out at home? Now THAT was exciting, unique, smart baseball. Come on, Keith, I’m always rooting for you, but get real.

Keith,

Having the Mantle play on your list shows you really didn’t think about the play very much.

The second the first baseman stepped on first, the force out on Mantle was eliminated. By diving back into first, Mantle gave the Pirates a chance to end the series they otherwise would not have had.

It was actually one of the stupidest plays in World Series history. He got lucky he wasn’t tagged out, which would have ended the series. And since the next guy was retired and Mazeroski ended the series in the bottom of the inning, Mantle’s play didn’t do anything that couldn’t have been accomplished by stopping between first and second and making sure the tying run scored.

I can’t believe so many so-called baseball experts don’t put an ounce of thought into what really happend on that play. It’s amazing.

Absolute SHAMELESS homerism, Olby. Your detest for all things Philly baseball is wearing your cred. to the nub.

Let me provide for you “all that went through Damon’s mind” as he looked up from 2nd base:

“Hey, nobody’s covering 3rd. Run!”

Yeah, brilliant.

Your Mets stink… get over it already.

You wrote this: “What the sleep of Slagle cost was shown the next minute when Chance singled over second.”

That passed me by until a bit ago… but it kept running through my head, and then I found myself muttering “Tinker to Evers to Chance”. I’m guessing that the Chance you mentioned was that one? :) I had completely forgotten that until tonight. Amazing. Thank you!

These are the saddest of possible words:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double–
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”

Keith,

I recorded your segment on the Nine Smartest Plays, and I’ll have to print out your blog entry so I can follow along with it. The reason? The sound mix on that Countdown segment was so unbalanced, that one could barely hear your voice-over. The volume on the music, crowd noise, and the original play-by-play in those highlight clips was way too loud compared to the voice-over track. I’ve noticed this occasionally happens on Worst Persons and Best Persons, as well, when the music is too prominent, and starts to drown out your voice when the show is done live. But I must admit, the Nine Smartest Plays segment suffered the most from this. I played it for some other people, who also found it hard to hear what you were saying.

Please don’t take offense, as I’m just offering this as constructive criticism of something that needs some minor improvement. I have no idea of whom to contact at MSNBC about this, so would it be possible for you to mention (to the appropriate person/s) that it’s sometimes hard to hear your voice when the background music becomes overwhelming?

@dodge17 – The only person whose cred is suffering here is you. You’re so blinded by your Phillies fandom, you can’t even admit to yourself how badly they screwed up, to allow Damon’s play to happen. It’s childish to take your frustration out on Keith, instead of being frustrated by how ineffectual your own team was in that situation. And BTW, what the heck to the Mets have to do with anything? They’re not even in the World Series? What’s “shameless”? Your ridiculous comment.

Damons headsup is worthy of your praise but Ime pissed about the camera work.(again) Do all vidio directors have a fetish about blackheads&boogers with their constant closeups? Where was the 3rd baseman?Absolutely no view of him even on replay tapes. McCaever was taking about I.I.I.again and Bucks kid was showing tapes of interviews with Yankees or talking about whats on t.v. next week. If you tune in after start of inning you wont know if a man is on until a hit or inning is over. Anouncing and vidio sucks today. I was at the game when Enos stole home. Maybe Ime spoiled by Dizzy,Fran&Harry Carebino.You always knew what what was happening. REGRETINGLY.

Damons headsup is worthy of your praise but Ime pissed about the camera work.(again) Do all vidio directors have a fetish about blackheads&boogers with their constant closeups? Where was the 3rd baseman?Absolutely no view of him even on replay tapes. McCaever was taking about I.I.I.again and Bucks kid was showing tapes of interviews with Yankees or talking about whats on t.v. next week. If you tune in after start of inning you wont know if a man is on until a hit or inning is over. Anouncing and vidio sucks today. I was at the game when Enos stole home. Maybe Ime spoiled by Dizzy,Fran&Harry Carebino.You always knew what what was happening. REGRETINGLY.

A Yankee emphasis is inevitable here because the Yankees have been in more World Series, and won more of them, than anyone else. Granted, I call the Yankees The Great Satan, but so it is.

I do think another Yankee play could have qualified: Reggie Jackson’s obvious interference with the throw from Bill Russell during the 1978 Dodgers-Yankees World Series. By sticking his butt in the way, Reggie helped his team. By doing so in a World Series and being Mr. October, and doing it against a shortstop who had throwing problems, he made sure he wouldn’t be called for interference.

I do not rank Fisk’s homer in this pantheon because simply hitting a homer isn’t a smart play, per se. Doing so when you have no legs to push off from and remembering that the pitcher always throws a certain pitch in a certain situation is kind of smart, or at least as smart as a baseball player should be.

Honorable mention: ABC dumping Howard Cosell from the 1985 World Series. Removing Cosell from a World Series was a smart move that didn’t make up for the dumb move of including him in the first place and dropping the home team announcers.

Keith — Slaughter scored on a double. A double — repeat after me — a double.

Look it up, please, before you perpetuate the myth that Slaughter scored on a “single”. The play was scored a double. It was a fine play for a runner, but it wasn’t a single.

Keith — Slaughter scored on a double. A double — repeat after me — a double.

Look it up, please, before you perpetuate the myth that Slaughter scored on a “single”. The play was scored a double. It was a fine play for a runner, but it wasn’t a single.

Loved the show last night, especially liked knowing content in advance! Can we get a Worst Baseball Persons in the WORLD segment? :)

Off topic:

I don’t know if you’ve ever attended the annual gathering of Pirates fans at old Forbes Field near the University of Pittsburgh – it is very moving:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3YWdASgfoc

Home plate is under glass in the building in the background (Posvar Hall).

Thanks for reading. Jan, Santa Clarita, CA (Pittsburgh born and bred)

Keith, While I enjoyed the article and the Countdown video I must take exception to including Damon?s play in the list. All Damon did was take advantage of a colossal defensive lapse on the part of the Phillies, leaving third base uncovered with a runner on first. While that lack of attention on the part of the Phillies probably qualifies the play for inclusion in a list of the worst defensive mistakes in world series history, Damon did no more than any competent base runner would have and should have done in a similar situation. I hardly think being awake on base qualifies as one of the smartest plays in series history. Besides, as my 12-year-old son (who doesn?t think that play deserves to make a top 100 list of smartest offensive plays) pointed out, Damon probably would have scored from first on A-Rod?s double. GO PHILLIES!

Actually, Damon’s play was outright dumb. Yes, the Phillies made a huge mistake by not covering third. But Feliz was almost close enough to lunge and tag Damon on his way to third. Damon has admitted that he didn’t realize how close Feliz was. If there was any possibility that Feliz could have lunged and tagged him, was it worth trying to steal third base, with two outs? As it turned out, of course, A-Rod’s hit would have scored Damon from second. The idea that Lidge would not throw a low slider with a runner on third, or that Damon’s double steal unnerved him, is a matter of speculation. The fact that Damon risked making the third out in that situation, with relatively little reward, is not a matter of speculation. He had an incredible at-bat to get on base. He was gutsy and fortunate in stealing third. He was not especially smart.

mr. olbermann – enjoyed your no. 1 story on the 9 smartest world series plays on tuesday night.

but i think you may have left viewers with the impression that the yankees? johnny damon is a kind of baseball savant for his back-to-back steals against the phillies in this series? game 4, and that the idea for damon?s pop-up steal of second and sprint to third was his alone.

actually, one of the networks ? fox or mlb.tv, i forget which ? interviewed damon right after the game and asked him where he got the idea for that move. his response? this is not a direct quote, but it?s close: ?it?s something we?ve talked about in spring training and maybe half a dozen times since. we know teams have the shift against mark, so if the conditions are right, then we thought we could go for it.?

i cheered damon’s move when i saw it; but if you believe damon, then the yankees staff and players had foreseen this eventuality last february or march and had planned for it.

if so, such planning is really clever. and maybe worthy of a story in itself.

p.s. tried three times to send this email to you at msnbc – and each time got a “failure to deliver” response. seems there’s a problem at msnbc’s end.

mr. olbermann – enjoyed your no. 1 story on the 9 smartest world series plays on tuesday night.

but i think you may have left viewers with the impression that the yankees? johnny damon is a kind of baseball savant for his back-to-back steals against the phillies in this series? game 4, and that the idea for damon?s pop-up steal of second and sprint to third was his alone.

actually, one of the networks ? fox or mlb.tv, i forget which ? interviewed damon right after the game and asked him where he got the idea for that move. his response? this is not a direct quote, but it?s close: ?it?s something we?ve talked about in spring training and maybe half a dozen times since. we know teams have the shift against mark, so if the conditions are right, then we thought we could go for it.?

i cheered damon’s move when i saw it; but if you believe damon, then the yankees staff and players had foreseen this eventuality last february or march and had planned for it.

if so, such planning is really clever. and maybe worthy of a story in itself.

p.s. tried three times to send this email to you at msnbc – and each time got a “failure to deliver” response. seems there’s a problem at msnbc’s end.

mr. olbermann – enjoyed your no. 1 story on the 9 smartest world series plays on tuesday night.

but i think you may have left viewers with the impression that the yankees? johnny damon is a kind of baseball savant for his back-to-back steals against the phillies in this series? game 4, and that the idea for damon?s pop-up steal of second and sprint to third was his alone.

actually, one of the networks ? fox or mlb.tv, i forget which ? interviewed damon right after the game and asked him where he got the idea for that move. his response? this is not a direct quote, but it?s close: ?it?s something we?ve talked about in spring training and maybe half a dozen times since. we know teams have the shift against mark, so if the conditions are right, then we thought we could go for it.?

i cheered damon’s move when i saw it; but if you believe damon, then the yankees staff and players had foreseen this eventuality last february or march and had planned for it.

if so, such planning is really clever. and maybe worthy of a story in itself.

p.s. tried three times to send this email to you at msnbc – and each time got a “failure to deliver” response. seems there’s a problem at msnbc’s end.

mr. olbermann – enjoyed your no. 1 story on the 9 smartest world series plays on tuesday night.
but i think you may have left viewers with the impression that the yankees? johnny damon is a kind of baseball savant for his back-to-back steals against the phillies in this series? game 4, and that the idea for damon?s pop-up steal of second and sprint to third was his alone. actually, one of the networks ? fox or mlb.tv, i forget which ? interviewed damon right after the game and asked him where he got the idea for that move. his response? this is not a direct quote, but it?s close: ?it?s something we?ve talked about in spring training and maybe half a dozen times since. we know teams have the shift against mark, so if the conditions are right, then we thought we could go for it.? i cheered damon’s move when i saw it; but if you believe damon, then the yankees staff and players had foreseen this eventuality last february or march and had planned for it. if so, such planning is really clever. and maybe worthy of a story in itself. p.s. tried three times to send this email to you at msnbc – and each time got a “failure to deliver” response. seems there’s a problem at msnbc’s end.

Two things about the countdown:

1) It was great to see some old footage of the “good ole days” of baseball, where players played more for pride than for money, and played hard for the duration of the game.

2) Damon’s slide WAS NOT the smartest play ever. All you had to do was realize what happened next: Teixiera reached, and A-Rod hit a smash line-drive to left field that would have scored Damon from second, if he had not been able to get to third. I wouldn’t consider it “smart,” rather, it was more taking advantage of an opportunity. If he had stayed on second, he could have run home backwards following that A-Rod hit. The play surrounding Merkel’s Boner should have been on the list, but it just goes to show how much of a Yankee cheerleader Olbermann is.

I want to say, right off the top, I am a fan of ?Countdown?. I?ve been watching Keith?s show for years now. I agree with his points of view and find his show entertaining. Hey, he?s a cool guy! Having said all that, I must protest something Keith commented on in his 11/3 show. I guess I have a ?Special Comment? of my own?

Near the end of the show Keith went on a sports tangent. He felt compelled to tout the base running skills of one Johnny Damon, and counted it as the most intelligent World Series moment in history. Keith explained how masterful it was of Damon to alertly advance from second to third at a pivotal point late in game 4 of the Worlds Series. Really? I agree, I guess. I guess it was super smart of Damon to advance to a base that was clearly not being covered by a single Philly player. Keith made it out to be a genius move. Is Damon is also spending his spare time working to solve the Unified Field Theory, as well? I’m not suggesting Damon isn’t smart. But does it require Einstein level intelligence for Damon to realize that he can go from second base to third base because not a soul on the Phillies had the base covered? I think not. I would think even Damon would blush with embarrassment over Keith?s over the top analysis of the play.

Hey, I understand Keith?s enthusiasm. He?s a Yankees fan. And yes, Damon is a great player. But to gush about one play, as if Damon somehow forever changed the sport of baseball, is a bit over the top. Okay fine, it was smart base running, but it wasn?t the only great play of this World Series. Why not share the love a little? What about the talents of Chase Utley who has hit 5 home runs in this World Series, tying him with the great Yankee Reggie Jackson? And what about the skills of Jimmy Rollins who caught a ball hit by Cano and then alertly told Howard to tag a napping Matsui to turn a critical double play? Now that’s smart!! Okay, Keith is not doing a sports show. I understand that. And I also understand that he is a Yankees fan. Being a Yankee fan and having his own show allows Keith to choose to ignore the skills of other players, it would seem. When it comes to the news of the day, Keith makes an effort to be fair in his reporting. I guess being fair does not extend to World Series reporting.

I have no idea why I felt it necessary to comment on this. At least I feel a little better getting it off my chest.

Keep up the good work, Keith!

A. Keith, maybe you just grew up in a dumber neighborhood than I did, but around here, even an 8-year-old would know enough to run to 3rd base when he sees that nobody’s covering 3rd.

B. At first I couldn’t see why, instead of including the original shoe-polish incident – ’57 Milwaukee Braves (which you did mention, anyway) – you would include a copycat version years later (’69).
But, I guess the point was that the Mets had a doctored-up baseball waiting in the dugout for just such an occasion. “Smart play” would be one way to describe that. “Outright cheating” would be another.

C. Both NY teams in A & B. Coincidence, I imagine.
Best regards.

unpaka – you’re wrong.

do you agree with Olby that the Damon play was the “smartest” in the history of the world series? really?

or do you think, as I did, that the guy looked up, saw 3rd empty and just ran?

reading olby’s other posts, his dislike for philly baseball comes through. but my philly fandom does not– i argue on the opinion presented, not what sholda been. which is why i didn’t mention the utley fake throw to first to nail bartlett at home in 2008 (which, sorry, was a MUCH smarter play… but i’ll stick to the subject matter).

if olby takes the same homerism to countdown every night, i’m going to start having to question his objectivity on matters political. my cred means zippo– i don’t get paid millions to have an opinion. allow that to sink in before you respond, eh?

I really enjoyed Keith’s broadcast on this topic on last night’s Countdown. Thank goodness I caught it then! I was looking forward to watching that segment again as part of today’s Countdown podcast, only to discover the podcast had edited out this final segment. Even worse, the MSNBC website (which usually offers tremendous access to video of past broadcasts) has posted last night’s Countdown without this concluding segment; only the printed transcripts are available.

Can someone shed light on why this part of the broadcast is missing? Maybe technical difficulties? I had been hoping to show Keith’s broadcast to any number of people, but now I’m stymied.

It’s obvious that Keith is a huge Yankee fan by his proclamation that Johnny Damon’s heads-up play was the “smartest play in WS history.” It should not rank in the top 100. Keith, did you not note that there were two outs and that Teixeira and Rodriguez (and their combined salaries of $53M) were due up? Whether Damon was on third or second was irrelevant to the outcome of the game. And that is the smartest play the Series has ever seen?

I’d be interested in how a Yankee fan like Keith can justify the $208M payroll (and near half billion dollar off-season investment) that defines his team. It’s okay to outspend your opponents by $100M to $150M? This is good for the sport? Keith, I assume you despise salary caps. I’m waiting for your commentary on Sunday Night Football to abolish the NFL’s salary cap. I mean it allows for a team from Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh!) to win the Super Bowl! Thank God a baseball team from Pittsburgh will never win the Series. (A-Rod $33M, Pirates (entire team) $25M.)

@christopherfilippone – Am I right in thinking that you’re not aware of Keith’s background as a sportscaster? It’s pretty much their job to be enthusiastic about describing sports action. Even at that, he hardly attributed “Einstein level intelligence” to Damon. He just said it was a smart move. It’s easy for those of us sitting and watching, not feeling the nerves or the pressure of being a player, and we also have a director giving us good shots of the action on the field, which players don’t have. But when you’re actually playing, it’s a different world, where you don’t have live video showing you where everybody is at any given moment–you have to scan the scene with your own eyes, and make your own split-second decisions. It’s also easier for a player to succumb to the pressure and choke, than it is to keep his wits about him and pull off a great play.

It’s unfair to say that Keith only appreciated that play because he’s a Yankees fan, when on this very blog he has waxed poetic about the play of many other players on other teams. If the Yankees hadn’t been in the WS, and a Phillies player had done what Damon did, KO would have been just as enthusiastic. He loves baseball, Yankees or no Yankees. Accusing him of reporting the WS unfairly is uncalled-for.

@dodge17 – So you get to decide who’s right and wrong? Who died and made you God? Um…nobody. The fact that you keep referring to KO as “Olby” (by coincidence, the derogatory nickname used by the denizens at the olbermannwatch web site) makes it clear that you already question his objectivity on politics. And yes, I know you don’t get paid millions to express your opinions. That’s because nobody cares about them. That’s my whole point.

@rwb2001 – It wasn’t the salary cap that allowed the Steelers to win the Super Bowl. It was a lousy play called by the Cardinals’ coach, resulting in a touchdown for the Steelers, that enabled Pittsburgh to win.

unpaka27…. bravo!

lHJCig I’m not easily impressed. . . but that’s impressing me! :)

In a game against Pittsburgh on 5/19/10, Ryan Braun attempted to duplicate Damon’s two base steal against a shift. It appeared to me that the Pirates had specifically prepared for that possibility; they of course anticipated that they would use the shift against Prince Fielder, and probably read Baseball Nerd. Andy LaRoche turned his back just long enough to deke Braun, who took off — and was out in two steps. Fool me (or somebody) once . . .

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Being intelligent implies a soft guy. It implies a overly critical guy. It implies an overly analytical guy. And, sometimes, deservedly so.
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Some of the greatest plays ever, also jackie robinson has to be my favourite player of all time!!

Some of the greatest plays ever, also jackie robinson has to be my favourite player of all time!!

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The World Series has decided Major League Baseball’s champion since its advent in the early part of the 20th century. It has been a best four-out … boa noite
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In a game against Pittsburgh on 5/19/10, Ryan Braun attempted to duplicate Damon’s two base steal against a shift. It appeared to me that the Pirates had specifically prepared for that possibility;Orkut Scraps
they of course anticipated that they would use the shift against Prince Fielder, and probably read Baseball Nerd. Andy LaRoche turned his back just long enough to deke Braun, who took off — and was out in two steps. Fool me (or somebody) once

Come On Keith, don’t you think you’re being a little too much of a homer with this list? What about Carlton Fisk’s 12th Inning Homer to Left in the ’75 World Series(Granted the Sox lost the series but in the same breathe Robinson’s steal of home didn’t win the game for Tech Articls
the Dodgers.) As Honorable Mention: There’s Bob The Dominator Gibson’s masterpeice of 3 CG in the 67 World Series. As for this World Series I’d have to pick Cliff Lee’s Game 1 Pitching performance which might I add is close to Gibson’s 67 or Christy Mathewson’s ’05 masterpeices of pitching. (Disclaimer: As a Red Sox Fan it’s hard for me to give Johnny Damon any kind of praise after leaving Boston for more money and the Yankees, he will always be a traitor and a coward in my eyes

Actually, Damon’s play was outright dumb. Yes, the Phillies made a huge mistake by not covering third. But Feliz was almost close enough to lunge and tag Damon on his way to third. Damon has admitted that he didn’t realize how close Feliz was. If there was any NewsMoments possibility that Feliz could have lunged and tagged him, was it worth trying to steal third base, with two outs? As it turned out, of course, A-Rod’s hit would have scored Damon from second. The idea that Lidge would not throw a low slider with a runner on third, or that Damon’s double steal unnerved him, is a matter of speculation. The fact that Damon risked making the third out in that situation, with relatively little reward, is not a matter of speculation. He had an incredible at-bat to get on base. He was gutsy and fortunate in stealing third. He was not especially smart.

Actually, Damon’s play was outright dumb. Yes, the Phillies made a huge mistake by not covering third. But Feliz was almost close enough to lunge and tag Damon on his way to third. Damon has admitted that he didn’t realize how close Feliz was. If there was any NewsMoments possibility that Feliz could have lunged and tagged him, was it worth trying to steal third base, with two outs? As it turned out, of course, A-Rod’s hit would have scored Damon from second. The idea that Lidge would not throw a low slider with a runner on third, or that Damon’s double steal unnerved him, is a matter of speculation. The fact that Damon risked making the third out in that situation, with relatively little reward, is not a matter of speculation. He had an incredible at-bat to get on base. He was gutsy and fortunate in stealing third. He was not especially smart.

That manager was Eddie Dyer – News360
the same guy who a decade later would encourage Slaughter to run any and all red lights.

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