Was that the greatest World Series game ever played?
For games in which a team, having put itself on the precipice of elimination because of managerial and/or strategic incompetence, then stumbles all over itself in all the fundamentals for eight innings, and still manages to prevail? Yes – Game Six, Rangers-Cardinals, was the greatest World Series Game of all-time. I’ve never seen a team overcome itself like that.
But the Cardinals’ disastrous defense (and other failures) probably disqualifies it from the top five all-time Series Games, simply because it eliminates the excellence requisite to knock somebody else off the list. Mike Napoli’s pickoff of Matt Holliday was epic, and the homers of Josh Hamilton and David Freese were titanic and memorable. But history will probably judge the rest of the game’s turning points (Freese’s error, Holliday’s error, Holliday’s end of the pickoff, Darren Oliver pitching in that situation, the Rangers’ stranded runners, Nelson Cruz’s handling of the game-tying triple, the failures of both teams’ closers) pretty harshly.
For contrast, in chronological order here are five Series Games that I think exceed last night’s thriller in terms of overall grading.
1912 Game Eight: That’s right, Game Eight (there had been, in those pre-lights days at Fenway Park, a tie). The pitching matchup was merely Christy Mathewson (373 career wins) versus Hugh Bedient (rookie 20-game winner) followed in relief by Smoky Joe Wood (who won merely 37 games that year, three in the Series). Mathewson shut out the Red Sox into the seventh, and the game was still tied 1-1 in the tenth when Fred Merkle singled home Red Murray and then went to second an error. But the Giants stranded the insurance run, and in the Bottom of the 10th, as darkness descended on Fenway (the first year it was open) there unfolded the damnedest Series inning anybody would see until 1986. Pinch-hitter Clyde Engle lofted the easiest flyball imaginable to centerfielder Fred Snodgrass – who dropped it. Hall of Famer Harry Hooper immediately lofted the hardest flyball imaginable to Snodgrass, who made an almost unbelievable running catch to keep the tying run from scoring and the winning run from getting at least to second or third. Mathewson, who had in the previous 339 innings walked just 38 men, then walked the obscure Steve Yerkes. But Matty bore down to get the immortal Tris Speaker to pop up in foul territory between the plate and first, and he seemed to have gotten out of the jam. Like the fly Holliday muffed last night, the thing was in the air forever, and was clearly the play of the inward rushing first baseman Merkle. Inexplicably, Mathewson called Merkle off, shouting “Chief, Chief!” at his lumbering catcher Chief Myers. The ball dropped untouched. Witnesses said Speaker told Mathewson “that’s going to cost you the Series, Matty” and then promptly singled to bring home the tying run and put the winner at third, whence Larry Gardner ransomed it with a sacrifice fly.
1960 Game Seven: The magnificence of this game is better appreciated now that we’ve found the game film. And yes, the madness of Casey Stengel is evident: he had eventual losing pitcher Ralph Terry warming up almost continuously throughout the contest. But consider this: the Hal Smith three-run homer for Pittsburgh would’ve been one of baseball’s immortal moments, until it was trumped in the top of the 9th by the Yankee rally featuring Mickey Mantle’s seeming series-saving dive back into first base ahead of Rocky Nelson’s tag, until it was trumped in the bottom of the 9th by Mazeroski’s homer. There were 19 runs scored, 24 hits made, the lead was lost, the game re-tied, and the Series decided in a matter of the last three consecutive half-innings, and there was neither an error nor a strikeout in the entire contest.
1975 Game Six: Fisk’s homer has taken on a life of its own thanks to the famous Fenway Scoreboard Rat who caused the cameraman in there to keep his instrument trained on Fisk as he hopped down the line with his incomparable attempt to influence the flight of the ball. But consider: each team had overcome a three-run deficit just to get the game into extras, there was an impossible pinch-hit three-run homer by ex-Red Bernie Carbo against his old team, the extraordinary George Foster play to cut down Denny Doyle at the plate with the winning run in the bottom of the 9th, and Sparky Anderson managed to use eight of his nine pitchers and still nearly win the damn thing – and have enough left to still win the Series.
1986 Game Six: This is well-chronicled, so, briefly: this exceeds last night’s game because while the Cardinals twice survived two-out, last-strike scenarios in separate innings to tie the Rangers in the 9th and 10th, the Met season-saving rally began with two outs and two strikes on Gary Carter in the bottom of the 10th. The Cards had the runs already aboard in each of their rallies. The Red Sox were one wide strike zone away from none of that ever happening.
1991 Game Seven: I’ll have to admit I didn’t think this belonged on the list, but as pitching has changed to the time when finishing 11 starts in a season provides the nickname “Complete Game James” Shields, what Jack Morris did that night in the 1-0 thriller makes this a Top 5 game.
There are many other nominees — the Kirk Gibson home run game in ’88, the A’s epic rally on the Cubs in ’29, Grover Cleveland Alexander’s hungover relief job in 1926, plus all the individual achievement games like Larsen’s perfecto and the Mickey Owen dropped third strike contest — and upon reflection I might be able to make a case to knock last night’s off the Top 10. But I’m comfortable saying it will probably remain. We tend to overrate what’s just happened (a kind of temporal myopia) but then again perspective often enhances an event’s stature rather than diminishing it. Let’s just appreciate the game for what it was: heart-stopping back-and-forth World Series baseball.
As we approach 24 hours after the bizarre bullpen screw-ups that may have helped to cost the Cardinals Game 5 of the World Series, one question crystallizes out of the haze:
Tony LaRussa expects us to believe that his bullpen was told to get closer Jason Motte and lefty specialist Mark Rzepczynski ready, but heard only “Rzepczynski”? And following that disaster, they were again told to get Motte ready but instead thought they heard “Lance Lynn”? That the noise was so deafening and the bullpen phone so reminiscent of a string-and-juice-can, that they missed the name of the number one guy down there, and then mistook one name for another that doesn’t sound anything like it?
And most importantly, after it happened once, nobody double-checked the second time they tried to get Motte warm? No “repeat it for me! Spell it!”? Nobody down there with a sense that in a sport where the bullpen coach was blamed and fired for Bobby Thomson’s home run (“Erskine is bouncing his curve,” Clyde Sukeforth said in 1951, sending the other pitcher warming, Ralph Branca, to his Dodger doom), that screwing it up once was a fireable offense?
Even if the bullpen staff is – so to speak – off the hook in the responsibility equation: are there no monitors? Are there no coaches who don’t think Jason Motte and Lance Lynn aren’t the same guy just because they both have beards? Did we really luck out last night because Bruce Sutter didn’t find himself warming up? LaRussa and Dave Duncan never noticed the wrong pitcher was throwing? When it was shown on tv? The second time?
If all of these questions are legitimate, there should have been people fired this morning, LaRussa included. My guess is the questions are not – they’re too amateurish to be believed of the worst manager in baseball, let alone LaRussa.
And if that’s true, it raises two more and far more disturbing questions: why is LaRussa lying and what really happened?
What? You want to know about the Albert Pujols “I called the hit-and-run then chose not to swing” fantasy? Don’t get me started. Let’s just chalk that one up to extra-terrestrials.
We will never know what would’ve followed: Adrian Beltre could have popped up on the next pitch, or homered igniting a 15-run rally, or torn his ACL running out a grounder, or anything in between.
But replays, taking less than sixty seconds of real time to watch, showed conclusively that Beltre fouled a ball off his foot with one out in the ninth against Jason Motte of the Cardinals in Game One of the 2011 World Series, and, unfortunately, home plate umpire Jerry Layne missed it, and called Beltre out on a grounder to third.
There has got to be a way to make those replays useful in the process by which the toughest calls, requiring the keenest judgment and the most chances to get them right, do not become unfortunate shadows on critical games – especially ones as well played as this Series opener.
I’m not calling for mandatory replay, just what I asked for after the heartbreaking screwup by Jim Joyce that cost Armando Galarraga his perfect game in 2010: some kind of option that lets the umps utilize the staggering advances in technology that appear on the scene every year. I know that the Airport Screening Cam added tonight by Fox looked hysterically funny and even grotesquely retro – but why not utilize it? You can go with an umpire’s option to check a replay himself, or a seventh ump in the booth with a replay array, even something that requires the replay review be completed in 90 seconds, or anything you like, but let’s get the right call made, as often as possible.
And I’m sorry, I don’t buy the “human element” argument in the least. Can anybody argue that tennis has been adversely affected since the electronic systems started determining baseline calls, rather than the imperfect ruling of an official too far away to see it clearly? I honor the umpires and think them among the most noble figures in the game, and agree that nobody’s perfect nor should be expected to be. But these aren’t arguments against improved and increased replay use – they’re arguments for it. Let’s give them every tool, and stop making them feel ashamed or incompetent if they choose to use them.
If it’s at all possible, I don’t want to know what an umpire thought happened. I want to know what happened.
The Beltre play may have been decisive, or it may have been trivial. But with a batter incapable of faking a wince fast enough on a ball off his foot, plus Beltre’s not running to first, plus the likelihood that only contact with an uneven, hard surface such as the front of his shoe could have made a ball angling so oddly off the bat then move on such a straight line to the third baseman, all the factors were present for exactly the kind of call the best of umpires should love to have a second look at, and all the technology is now available to get that second look accomplished in literally seconds.
Firstly, Rangers fans should be delighted by the headline – my 2011 predictions have been execrable (according to this blog, the series opens in Atlanta tomorrow night with the Red Sox as the visitors – or maybe it’s in Boston; maybe I got the All-Star Game wrong too).
Worse still I have a great affection for Ron Washington, his third base coach Dave Anderson, and his Game One starter C.J. Wilson. Beyond that, there is no love lost between me and Cardinals’ manager Tony LaRussa. The purist in me is offended that the regular season is so irrelevant that what it proved was the fourth best team in the National League is my pick to win the Series. And I happen to hate team catchphrases and don’t particularly care about whether the Cardinals’ flights are happy or morose.
Nevertheless, here are a few points that made this forecast unwelcome but necessary. You know that dreadful Cardinals’ starting rotation? Its post-season ERA is a nauseating 5.43 – and the Rangers are at 5.58. That anemic St. Louis line-up with the pitcher and the relief pitchers and a few popgun bats off the bench all hitting? It’s batting .288, getting on base at a .345 rate, slugging .448, for an OPS of .793. The awe-inspiring Texas line-up so deep with the DH that Boomstick Himself hitting way down there in the seventh? .259/.330/.434/.764. Having thus far played one more game than the Rangers, the Cardinals have outscored them 62 to 55.
Speaking of Boomstick, what if that tweak in Game 6 of the ALCS, that seeming oblique injury, merely hinders Nelson Cruz in the Series? What happens to a slugger who can’t twist his body fully without searing pain? Cruz has been fragile enough that to begin with his health is always in doubt. Worse still, there are probabilities in play here, and if your performance in the Division Series was 1-for-15 with no homers and no RBI, and then your performance in the Championship Series was 8-for-22 with six homers and 13 RBI, your performance in the World Series is much likelier to look like the first set of numbers than the second.
The DH “thing”? The Cardinals led the majors in hitting on the road, finishing third in road home runs behind only the Yankees and Red Sox. The Cardinals, thought to be comparatively weak sisters at the plate, basically led the National League in every offensive category except home runs, and struck out the fewest times in the NL. To be fair, Texas struck out even less – 48 times less – but without pitchers hitting the stat is slightly deceptive for comparison purposes. Cardinals’ pitchers struck out 111 times as batters during 2011, meaning their eight position players (and pinch-hitters and DHs) only struck out 867 times in total.
Then there is the little matter of the efficacy of starting three lefthanders against the Cardinals (in point of fact, if all three games scheduled for Arlington are played, St. Louis would face the three southpaws in a row). I appreciate the fact that the Cardinals did better against righties than any other NL team (and overall sit behind only Texas throughout the sport), and I’m aware that the key to beating the Cards this year has been to make Lance Berkman bat from the right side, where he is useful but not a force. But it still strikes me as inherently dangerous to offer Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, a blossoming David Freese, and Allen Craig the opportunity to face the likes of Wilson, Holland, and Harrison. To me the play is to bag one of the lesser two and opt for Alexi Ogando, rather than waiting for Holland to blow up again and then going and getting Ogando. Against lefties in the post-season the Cardinals battered Cliff Lee, were bewildered by Randy Wolf, and held their own in a loss to Cole Hamels.
The bullpens have both been superb – the Cardinals’ particularly – and the fact that neither team had to go to a seventh game in the LCS means both sets of relievers are likely to be fresh. If there is one intangible in Texas’s favor in this series, it’s that they’ve faced Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski this year, with some success. In fact they hung a loss Rzepczynski as recently as July 23, even though the Eyechart Man was effective against David Murphy (0-2) and Mitch Moreland (0-1) in four appearances. As images of Rzepczynski nearly getting Pujols killed Saturday night dance in the heads of Cardinals fans, it is trivially noteworthy to remember that his loss in Arlington nearly three months ago resulted from his own throwing error on a Moreland sacrifice.
So if you want to get an exotic wager in on the weirdest thing that could happen in the World Series, it would be Rzepczynski blowing an inning, or a lead, or a game, by picking up a bunt and running face first into Pujols for a solid E-1 and possible concussion.
Of course, just picking the Cardinals is an exotic enough wager.
My prediction is that by this time next week, one of the Red Sox owners will have come out and announced “Fenway Park sucks! It’s the reason we didn’t make the playoffs this year! I never wanted to move the team out of the Huntington Avenue Grounds in 1912 anyway! It was all J.D. Drew’s idea!”
I told you it was ownership that trashed Terry Francona early in the week to The Boston Globe. Now the Excuse-a-Thon has apparently grown so urgent that the Boston moguls aren’t even bothering to go off-the-record any more. John Henry went on local radio this afternoon and absolutely trashed Carl Crawford and whoever signed him. Can’t remember the guy’s name exactly, used to work there. What was it again? Epstein? Juan Epstein?
…anyone involved in the process, anyone in upper management with the Red Sox will tell you that I personally opposed that. We had plenty of left-handed hitting. I don’t have to go into why. I’ll just tell you that at the time I opposed the deal, but I don’t meddle to the point of making decisions for our baseball team.
OK, John, who does meddle then? Who could overrule Theo Epstein? Any ghosts or deities?
And if you’ve set up a system in which the VP/General Manager is accountable to nobody every time he wants to spend $142,000,000, if you’re not responsible when it’s spent badly – who exactly is accountable for that systemic unaccountability?
What’s more, what exactly do you think is going to happen when you trash Carl Crawford before the second year of his seven year contract? Do you think Stu Sternberg is suddenly going to say “We want him back! Here are Matt Joyce and Matt Moore for him, and we’ll soak up the $140 million in the difference in their salaries”? Do you think, John, that the Yankees will suddenly come back and say “We know he proved himself the absolute opposite of a clutch player, and down the stretch he looked like he was terrified, even in the outfield, of making a mistake, but any Red Sox enemy is a friend of ours – here’s Montero for him”?
So the longer we go into this, between the massive disaster of the last month, the startling admission to the Globe that the owners didn’t know anything about their more dysfunctional players (hell, they never met Josh Beckett?), the inept handling of the Francona departure, and the now glacier-length negotiations to off the most successful executive in club history, the more it becomes obvious that the success of the Red Sox for the last ten years was the result of a couple of geniuses, a lot of good luck, and in spite of the Three Stooges who own the shop. And just as obvious, it’ll be back to Boston’s glory days, like the winter of 1980-81 when Haywood Sullivan forgot to send contract offers to Carlton Fisk and Fred Lynn and had to watch both of them leave, virtually without compensation.
That’s the true heritage of Kenmore Square. That and things like one owner (Buddy LeRoux) co-opting Tony Conigliaro Night to announce he was suing the other owner (Jean Yawkey) for control of the franchise. So that’s why within a week they’ll be blaming Fenway.
On Friday afternoon, September 30th, less than an hour after Terry Francona – the only man to manage the Boston Red Sox to a World’s Championship in the last 93 years – announced more in sorrow than in anger that he would not be returning to the job next season, a trusted baseball friend told me “now a lot of crap about Tito is going to come out.”
This morning – just as the architect of the Red Sox dynasty of the last decade, General Manager Theo Epstein, was finalizing his own departure to take over the Chicago Cubs – my baseball friend’s prediction came true. The Boston Globe has printed a remarkable hatchet job on Francona, and to a lesser degree Epstein, cobbled together from a series of anonymous sources that appear to mainline directly back to Red Sox ownership.
Francona and Epstein were not merely scapegoated in the story. The newspaper essentially printed an ownership implication that Francona had a prescription drug problem, that he was distracted by worry over the safety of his son and son-in-law, serving overseas, and that he lost focus because of marital problems. With the caveat that I consider both Francona and Epstein friends – and my assurance that neither has been a source for what I write here – the story is one of the more remarkable smear campaigns in baseball (or business) history. And it merits explanation and exposure.
There is blame for everybody in that article except the stadium P-A announcer, two or three hot dog vendors – and the Red Sox owners, John Henry, Larry Lucchino, and Tom Werner. Incredibly, the Globe writes, as if this is the way brands with hundreds of millions of dollars operate:
“The owners also indicated in postseason remarks they were generally unaware of how deeply damaged the Sox had become until after the season. They denied being distracted by their expanding sports conglomerate…”
In a 2500-word article implying incompetence by the General Manager, inattention – possibly caused by inappropriate drug use – by the Manager, that’s all the criticism owners Henry, Lucchino, and Werner, get; even when they admit, in the article that “they were generally unaware of how deeply damaged the Sox had become until after the season” — even when other baseball people were talking about that damage in early September. If you ever need to de-construct a newspaper story based on anonymous sources – especially one printed in one of the so-called “more respectable” papers – all you need to know is who the writer savages and who he lets get away with it. Follow the blame. Whoever doesn’t get it, is probably the source.
“In the ugly aftermath the Sox owners privately vowed to correct any lingering problems.”
The Sox owners are the sources. And if their childishly simple promise is to be fulfilled, the first thing Henry, Lucchino, and Werner need to do is find out which of them, or which of their minions, was so ethically bankrupt as to trash the men who made the team’s success possible, as they went out the door. They need to know which of them decided to scapegoat a universally-respected baseball man like Francona by dragging in his marriage, his health, and the fact that he himself volunteered to double-check his own use of pain medication with the team doctor to make sure it wasn’t excessive.
Incidentally, if a ballplayer was in such pain from 30-year old knee problems that he had to have blood drained from one of them hours before a game, on the road, by the visiting team’s doctor, **in** the stadium, and he still played that night with only mild medication, the owners wouldn’t imply he was abusing painkillers – they’d deify him. They did so when a pitcher named Curt Schilling pitched a World Series game in 2004 even though blood was supposedly leaking from surgery on a tendon sheath in his right ankle. He’s a legend. But Francona’s option wasn’t picked up and he was portrayed as having a problem.
Yet there was one more detail about Francona, revealed to the newspaper, that elevates this particular hatchet job to the level of making one hope it is another 93 years before Boston wins, that they go from the overwrought “Curse Of The Bambino” to “The Curse Of The Lucchino.”
“While Francona coped with his marital and health issues, he also worried privately about the safety of his son, Nick, and son-in-law, Michael Rice, both of whom are Marine officers serving in Afghanistan.”
To drag into this, the service to this country of Francona’s son, and son-in-law, is not only beyond any pale. It isn’t even new. They didn’t just get there this year. But publicizing where they are is something Francona has asked even his friends not to do. It actually might materially affect their safety.
But a large corporation, needing to scapegoat the departing geniuses whom they will replace with malleable mediocrities, doesn’t give a damn about anybody but the three clowns at the top, who have mistaken the success and effort of others, for something they somehow created. Not even the one thing those owners did bring to the equation – cash for a large payroll – earns them any credit. The principal owners of the Red Sox only became such, via a sweetheart deal engineered by the Commissioner of Baseball a decade ago. They have been playing with house money ever since.
And they have now shown themselves to be truly good at only one thing: blaming others.
In short, the wrong executives are leaving Boston.
UPDATE: I left out another relevant morsel in this unpleasantness. The Boston Globe is still owned by The New York Times. And The New York Times still owns 16.6 percent of New England Sports Ventures. And New England Sports Ventures still owns the Red Sox, Fenway Park, and much of NESN, among other stuff.
(Don’t normally do this, but I’ll have more on this extraordinary slime job on tonight’s TV show)
Congratulations to Kenny Williams and Jerry Reinsdorf and all others with the Chicago White Sox who managed to pull not just a complete surprise, but what is likely to be a long-term brilliant maneuver, in hiring Robin Ventura as the team’s new manager.
If anybody in baseball history has ever been better prepared psychologically for the roller-coaster of managing, I can’t think of his name. Ventura was probably the most unflappable, even-keeled player I’ve ever met – completely immune to the impact of wins and losses, interviews and ignorance, the media and the fans. He focused on exactly one thing: playing the game, and helping his teammates play it nearly as well as he did.
And he did this with an exceptional sense of humor that he used surreptitiously and almost conspiratorially. You have doubtless heard the story of Rickey Henderson coming to the New York Mets in 1999 and being reintroduced to John Olerud, briefly his teammate with the 1993 Blue Jays. Rickey – famously unfocused in the most benign and only self-injuring way possible – is supposed to have caught one glimpse at the batting helmet worn in the field that was both Olerud’s protection against after-effects of a brain aneurysm and the first baseman’s trademark – and said “I played with a guy in Toronto who did that, too.”
The story was entirely false, but so authentic-sounding, that it is still told as if it were biblical truth. And it was completely the concoction of Robin Ventura, perhaps the only such practical joke clean enough to be documented here. What’s more, if it took 100 words to tell that apocryphal story, those were probably 100 of the 200 words Ventura said to anybody not on his team that month. The French will tell you that there is the man good at the “bon mot” – the clever remark, that might have been the only clever remark out of a thousand he made that day. Then they will tell you, with a great deal more reverence, about the expert at the “mot juste” – the guy who is quiet all night, all day, all week, until he finally speaks, and says something so precisely correct and appropriate, that the quote stays vibrant and with you, forever. That’s Robin Ventura.
That’s not just about his humor. His baseball intuition was just like that, too. Jerry Manuel just said on MLB Tonight that Ventura used to “take care” of their infield when both were with the White Sox. The same was true with the Mets. Even as his skills slowed with the Yankees, his ability to position himself defensively based on pitch and hitter more than made up for the slowing reflexes. As a manager, one would expect that he would be as he was as a teammate: he will say damn little, and when he does speak, his players will say “Jeez! Why didn’t I think of that? He just extended my career five years.” This is, simply, one damn smart baseball man, who can’t be upset.
The latter truth probably comes from one infamous day that only becoming an all-time great manager might enable Ventura to live down. On August 4, 1993, after Nolan Ryan hit Ventura with a pitch at Arlington, Ventura charged the mound. He was 26, Ryan was 46 – it should’ve been no contest. It was exactly that. Ryan, alone among all pitchers who have ever faced that scenario, had the presence of mind to stay on top of the mound. From there, he was Andre The Giant. Ventura could do little more than run into Ryan’s headlock, and the rest was a video highlight that will still be being played on the day humankind disappears from the earth.
Since then, Ventura has made no brash move. Only stealth stuff. He has marched to his own drummer’s beat and done very well at it. And this is all said with the kind of caveat the White Sox must have anticipated. If he has misjudged his own interest in dealing with today’s players, Ventura will shrug his shoulders and go home. Maybe that will happen in 2032, maybe in 2022, maybe next May.
I’m not saying it’s likely, I’m just saying he doesn’t need this managing crap, and that’s one of the reasons he figures to be great at it.
Presumably the realization is just beginning to sink in now in Boston – and with the rumors that he’ll be the next one out the door, it must be sinking in at levels higher than Theo Epstein – that the Red Sox are now faced with a task far more daunting, and far more likely to result in disaster, than even playing their games in September turned out to be: Finding somebody to manage the team in 2012 who can merely do as well as Terry Francona did last month.
The Yankees-Tigers meeting in soggy New York over the weekend was filled with baseball people trying just to come up with somebody – anybody – who could handle the pressures of ownership, an intense fan base now driven crazier by eight years of entitlement feelings their ancestors hadn’t known since 1918, and the media. Throw in the startling recent comments by some Boston players and you can add in to the mix the fact that Tito apparently kept the lid on a team full of Prima Donnas and protected them against reality at every turn. Remember, in New York, if you are raised on the Yankees and you feel they have done you wrong, you can switch to the Mets (or more likely, vice versa). I know from my time living in Boston that there are people who proclaim themselves Red Sox fans who maintain a seething hatred – often kept below the surface – towards the franchise. I know of one who believes the team shortened the lives of many of his male relatives. There are Red Sox fans who gain as much satisfaction from when there is turmoil as when there are titles. These folks can get bent out of shape very, very easily, and a surprisingly large number of them wind up with the area’s newspapers and radio stations.
After three days at Yankee Stadium, I didn’t hear one managerial suggestion that wasn’t fatally flawed. Worse yet, I didn’t hear one baseball person nominate somebody without saying that the nomination was fatally flawed. Some of the names have shown up at the bottom of a column by my old friend Gordon Edes. He writes mostly about Epstein’s future, but the last part focuses on five guys supposedly already kicked around inside the cramped offices of Yawkey Way:
Among the names that have surfaced in internal discussions are Indians coach Sandy Alomar Jr., Rays coach Dave Martinez, Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin, minor league manager Ryne Sandberg and Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who has a mutual option to return to St. Louis.
There is also an assumption that DeMarlo Hale, the long-suffering bench coach for the Sox and the minor league manager of the year – in 1999 – will get an interview. The name “Joe Torre” has been thrown around, and despite the fact that he found his office job as dull as it sounded, I’m thinking this is highly unlikely. The name “Bobby Valentine” has been leaked, too – presumably by Bobby Valentine.
But let’s go with the bold print name there first. Tony LaRussa? Seriously? This man went ballistic at least twice this year facing the scrutiny of the St. Louis media. The St. Louis media is three writers and a guy from KMOX Radio. It’s hard to say for whom this would be a bigger disaster: the Red Sox, or LaRussa. As was agreed at Yankee Stadium when this name was floated (almost literally) there over the weekend: by June 1, a “Manager Tony LaRussa of the Boston Red Sox” would have fallen asleep at a traffic light in at least six different New England towns.
The next name would be Sandberg’s. Now let’s review what I wrote here last year at this time when Cubs fans were understandably clamoring for their old hero to assume the reins at Wrigley. The Cubs loved Ryno’s work ethic, his willingness to go back to Peoria and fight his way up the chain, but they saw nothing in his managerial skill set that even made him a rival to Mike Quade. When you are beloved in a town – irrationally, gigantically, statue-sized beloved – and you’re not a good enough candidate to edge out Mike Quade, you’re probably not a good big league skipper in the making. The Red Sox interviewed him a year ago for their AAA job at Pawtucket but before they made up their minds, he took the equivalent post with the Phillies. They seem to have a higher opinion of Sandberg, given his high-profile roles with the big club in Spring Training and again in September, but they’re not looking to retire Charlie Manuel any time soon, either. It could easily be that the Cub snub woke Sandberg up – and if that’s the case, the Sox would presumably be challenged for his services by several teams, and maybe even the Cubs again, now that new ownership is in full control.
Speaking of which, David Martinez and Sandy Alomar, Jr. are the front-runners for the White Sox job. Martinez, the Rays’ bench coach, was GM Kenny Williams’ teammate in Montreal 20 years ago and seems a cinch for the Chicago job unless something goes wrong. If it does, Alomar is a fine baseball man and as a player was a great calming influence on the high-strung Indians of the ’90s, and was just named bench coach for Cleveland. But each has a serious drawback: not only have they never managed in the majors, they’ve never even managed in the minors. How quickly would this start the Red Sox fans’ verbal riots in the event of a 4-10 start? What credibility would they carry among Prima Donna players? If Martinez has a particularly inspirational effect on the terrified Carl Crawford, that might be reason enough to overlook the inexperience, but I’m thinking the Red Sox are still stinging from the well-intentioned but disastrous decision to promote Joe Kerrigan to manager without any previous experience at any level.
So then there’s Mackanin. This is a solid baseball man who had two all-too brief stints as interim manager at Cincinnati and Pittsburgh and never got the serious shot he deserved at either fulltime job. Mackanin knows his stuff, managed forever in the minors, and just turned 60 years old – which is a problem for the Boston position. Francona aged a century at the helm in Fenway, and he had already had an idea about the kind of media pressures he might face, from his unhappy years in Philadelphia.
So there are the problems. Terry Francona’s successor has to be a young, respected man, with a major league track record, an ability to hurdle the media, the fans, and the Prima Donnas. He has to have enough personality to get the benefit of the doubt from the fans, media, and players going in – but not so much that any of them feels he is overshadowing them. And he has to be an improvement on Francona.
Now who would that be? I kinda see a Bob Melvin type in here, but as the Mariners and Diamondbacks each discovered to their chagrin, there aren’t as many of him as they thought, either. The A’s smartly locked him in long-term after he very quietly did a superior job stopping the Oakland ship from sinking to the bottom of the sea this summer.
Wait – I got it. Give him a month to recuperate and then see if this Francona guy will take the job.
Update: As tweeter Mike Mendez reminded my rain-addled brain: On Halloween night, 2005, Epstein resigned from the Red Sox and sneaked out of Fenway Park in a holiday Gorilla costume. Less than three months later, on January 19th, Epstein’s successor was named – and he got the added title of Vice President. Epstein’s successor was…Theo Epstein.
The latest weather forecast here in soggy New York suggests nothing worse than showers for Saturday night’s resumption of Game One of the American League Division Series between the Tigers and Yankees. Of course, that’s what they said Friday night as well, and the “showers” turned into rain so hard that it was literally bouncing back up off the seats and even the field at Yankee Stadium. From what I can tell, the four key parties – the Yanks, the Tigers, TBS, and MLB – all had forecasts suggesting any rain could be played through (if they hadn’t, you would have expected Jim Leyland and maybe even Joe Girardi to switch starters and hold back their aces – maybe starting relievers with starting experience like Phil Coke – in anticipation of the deluge).
In any event, just in case the game is again delayed until Sunday, MLB is reportedly prepared to play a day-night doubleheader, which is already being portrayed as an all-time historical first. Technically it wouldn’t be. Back in the 19th Century when major league baseball (then comprised of the National League and its junior rival, the American Association) was still experimenting with the idea of post-season championships, their champions played a 15-game “World’s Championship Series” with stops in a mind-boggling ten different cities. Sure enough, on Thursday, October 20, 1887, the NL Champion Detroit Wolverines and the AA-winning St. Louis Browns were scheduled to play a World’s Series game in Washington. They were rained out. So instead, on the 21st, they met up in a game that started at some point in the morning, and then the two teams traveled by train to play in Baltimore the same afternoon.
It’s the only time the same two teams have played two post-season games in the same day, and on top of the bizarre concept, the afternoon game, played at Baltimore’s Union Park, cinched the Series for Detroit. The Wolverines, on a four-hitter by starter Lady Baldwin and a two-run homer by Larry Twitchell, pounded St. Louis 13-3 to win Game 11 and take an 8-to-3 lead in the best-of-15. The concept of ending the series once it was mathematically impossible for the other team to win was not yet locked in place, so the teams got back on the train and played Game 12 anyway the next day in Brooklyn. In fact they played the series right to the end as scheduled, with a game each in Detroit, Chicago, and St. Louis. Attendance was what you’d expect: they drew 378 fans in Chicago for the meaningless Game 14, and just 659 for Game 15 as St. Louis fans came out to watch their team which had already lost the Series!
When I first mentioned on Twitter that there had previously been a post-season doubleheader – in 1887 – I got a lot of guffaws in return. Baseball has pretty much erased the pre-1903 history of post-season championships. But as the scorecard shows, it was called “The World’s Championship Series” and it pitted the teams that had won the pennant races in each of the two major leagues. It may have been far from a final product, but to my mind it — and the ones that preceded it in 1884, 1885, and 1886, plus the ones in 1888, 1889, and 1890 — count (although the weather turned so bad, and the fans so disinterested, that they abandoned the 1890 series with Brooklyn and Louisville tied at two wins apiece).
So if the Tigers wind up playing a post-season split doubleheader on Sunday, not only won’t it be the first such event in baseball history, it won’t even be the first such event in Detroit baseball history.
History has already been made in this Series, of course: the game is the first to be suspended, rather than canceled, under the policy adopted in the middle of the 2008 World Series after the torrent that hit Philly during Game Five. But also, even as people officially connected to the game were telling each other that MLB had called it a night, a historic and amazing announcement was being made in the Yankee Stadium Club: “We have no information yet about any postponement of tonight’s game! Please do not spread rumors, gossip, or innuendo about a cancellation.”
Seriously? What were they going to do to us? Make us go sit outside? Cancel the game on us? Tape over our mouths? Screw up ticket distribution by turning the scheduled start of Game 2 into the resumption time of Game 1? Was Bud Selig going to slap everybody for innuendo-mongering?
I think they were just trying to sell one more round of drinks.
The suspension announcement came about five minutes later.