Results tagged ‘ World Series ’

For Heavens’ Sake: Replay!

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.

It’s time.

Good Luck Retirements?

So now that Gil Meche has quit, does that mean the Kansas City Royals are going to win the World Series this year?

Too laughable for words? How about Milwaukee, because Trevor Hoffman has hung ‘em up while still theoretically still with the Brewers?
If you haven’t clicked away by now, don’t think for a moment that I’m suggesting there’s a predictable correlation between any of these things, but there is a not insubstantial list of occasions in history in which a prominent player – or even star – has retired only to see his last team go on to win the World Series the following fall.
Three of the game’s All-Time greats managed this impossible and dubious trick. Stan Musial was a World Champ in three of his first four seasons in the majors (’42, ’44, ’46 – he spent 1945 in the service) and then slogged it out with some pretty bad Cardinals teams for the next 17 years before retiring after the ’63 campaign. He then watched from the distant front office as the Birds won it all in ’64.
The other two immortals managed to miss out together. Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker had been forced out of their player-manager jobs in Detroit and Cleveland respectively after a gambling scandal hit the American League in the late ’20s, and concluded their careers as teammates with the 1928 Philadelphia A’s. They left (Cobb to true retirement, and Speaker to a pinch hitting/managing gig with Newark of the International League), and the Athletics won the 1929 Series. Speaker had won crowns in Boston and Cleveland, but though he was in the Series in his second, third, and fourth full seasons in the majors in Detroit, the Tigers lost all three of those Classics and for everything else he did, Cobb could never claim he won a Series.
The most touching example of this impeccably bad timing would obviously be Don Mattingly, who arrived just after the Yankees lost the 1981 World Series. Mattingly suffered through the worst of the Steinbrenner years at Yankee Stadium from 1982 to 1993 without once seeing the post-season. Mattingly’s ’94 Yanks, a pretty good team, were snuffed out by the strike, and in ’95, when he finally reached the playoffs after having announced his retirement, they blew a chance at what would’ve been his only Series appearance by coughing up the 2-0 lead to the Mariners. The Yankees, with Tino Martinez in Donnie Baseball’s stead at first base, went on to win the Series in 1996.
Amazingly there are at least two other Yankee first basemen who did the same thing, although neither had as much to complain about as did Mattingly. George McQuinn retired after the 1948 season, just before the Yanks went on their run of five straight Championships. But McQuinn had already gotten his ring with the ’47 Yankees.
McQuinn’s retirement opened up a path for Joe Collins to take over much of the work at first base in the Bronx. Collins was hardly cheated: he only played eight full seasons but was on six World’s Champs. When the Yanks decided to trade him to Philadelphia after they lost the 1957 Classic, Collins retired – and New York rebounded to win the 1958 crown.
Mathematically, with all those titles, it’s not surprising that there are at least four other Yankees on this strange list. They began asking “where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?” in the winter of 1951 when he retired. With nine rings in just thirteen years on the field, the Yankee Clipper did not get shortchanged. Nevertheless, New York won two more in his first two years away from the game. The talented Jerry Coleman, still going strong in the Padres’ booth just 53 years later, quit the Yanks after the ’57 loss to Milwaukee and, like Collins, missed the ’58 crown. His fellow Yankee infield stalwart Gil McDougald retired after the ’60 loss to Pittsburgh and thus missed the ’61 win over Cincinnati and the ’62 victory over San Francisco. And of the most recent vintage, Mike Mussina’s triumphant climax to his great career, his first 20-win season in his swan song of 2008, also meant he missed out on what would’ve been his only ring in 2009.
This list is probably incomplete; I confess to having done it off the top of my head. But Pee Wee Reese is on it, retiring from the 1958 Dodgers and so on their ’59 Series winners only as a coach. If you want a manager, take Earl Weaver. He retired from the Orioles after 1982. They won it under Joe Altobelli in 1983. Making things worse, the Birds soured on Altobelli in ’85 and Weaver un-retired for two unhappy seasons. 
There are a couple of judgement calls, too. Tim McCarver called it quits from the Phillies at the end of 1979 and went into the broadcasting booth, only to be activated in September, 1980 when rosters expanded. But he was back in civvies for the World Series triumph, which would’ve been his first since St. Louis in 1964. There is also the iffy case of Harvey Haddix. The Baltimore Orioles traded the veteran pitcher to Milwaukee in August of 1965, but Haddix told the Braves he was intending to retire in a month and they shouldn’t waste money or players on obtaining him. In fact, his last major league game was on August 28, 1965, so I’ll leave it to you as to whether or not he qualifies on the bad timing roster considering the ’66 edition of the Orioles won the Series.
Lastly, the most frustrating case I can recall would have to be that of Mel Harder, the Cleveland Indians pitcher for whose Hall of Fame candidacy Ted Williams never stopped lobbying. Harder joined the Tribe in 1928, eight years after they’d taken the Series under player-manager Speaker. He won a tidy 223 games before finally giving up after his 20th season in Cleveland, in 1947. The Indians promptly won the 1948 World Series, in no small measure because of their rookie pitching coach – Harder himself. He stayed in that job through 1963 (and obviously the Indians never won the Series after his first year). To expand our terms a little bit, when the Indians let him go, Harder quickly hooked on as pitching coach of the Mets (five years before their Championship). He would move on to the Reds in ’66 and stay through 1968, exiting just before The Big Red Machine rose to prominence.
So if the Royals or Brewers surprise everybody this year, maybe you know why.

A Note About Buster Posey

Frankly, on the afternoon of March 21, 2009, I really wasn’t sure who Buster Posey was.

Sure, he had been the Giants’ first-round draft choice the year before and the name had filtered through every fan’s head, but as the line-ups were introduced at Phoenix Municipal Stadium for the exhibition game between the Giants and A’s, I confess to snickering a little. Buster Posey? Did they just say Wayne Housie? Ray Cosey? Post Toasties?
Just to the left of home plate, a group of fans who seemed at distance to be college age or just a little older, did more than laugh at the unfamiliar name. They serenaded him. Cries of “Bus-ter!” alternated with a Yankee Stadium-like chant of “Bus-ter Po-sey!” This was not a bunch of adoring kids performing the incantation of their favorite’s name. They were making fun of him, big-time. And they never stopped. Posey, of course, never even let on that he heard them, which would have required him to have total hearing loss.
But Buster Posey was wearing number 28 in his first major league training camp and was catching a pretty good game. He was athletic and agile and the A’s made a major league mistake trying to double-steal on him in the third inning – he nailed Jason Giambi at third base with a perfect strike that would’ve gotten Giambi from about 150 feet.
But the serenading continued. And then it happened. In the seventh inning, Posey got hold of a pitch from Russ Springer and made it disappear into the Arizona sky, high and far over the 410-foot sign in left-centerfield. And as he trotted in from third base, Buster Posey acknowledged the little group that had been deriding him all afternoon. He stared at them, tipped his helmet, and froze them into silence. It was impressive enough that I wrote it down in my scorebook.
And as the 2010 World Champion San Francisco Giants – who would be sitting at home with the rest of us if not for Buster Posey – continue to celebrate in Arlington, I keep wondering where those guys are now who were taunting him then…and what they’re thinking.

The Josh Hamilton-Bengie Molina Series

They could – and did – give the trophies to other guys, but let’s face it, if you’re a fan of the Phillies, or the ’09 Yankees, or the ’10 Giants, you know that the World Series MVP last year was Damaso Marte, and the NLCS MVP this year was Javier Lopez.

Simply put, for whatever degree of offensive incompetence the Phillies didn’t create themselves, Lopez did it for them. He pitched in all six games and faced Chase Utley and Ryan Howard each time. And they were 1-for-12 off him, completely mesmerized by his left-handed sidearming.
Josh Hamilton faced him this year, went 0-for-1. He faced him three times in 2008, went 1-for-3 with a double.
Past performance, as they say, is not a guarantee of future results, but even if Lopez continues his hot streak (and remember his ERA for the Red Sox in ’09 was 9.46), Hamilton just isn’t as easily dominated by lefthanders. If his ALCS home run details don’t tell you that (Game One: Sabathia; Game Three: Pettitte; Game Four: Logan — all LHP, plus a fourth game off Sergio Mitre in garbage time), just check out his 2010 splits:
                                    AB    HR     RBI     AVG    SLG
At Home Vs LHP           82       5       13     .305     .524
On Road Vs LHP           84       3       10     .238     .393
Overall Vs RHP           352      24      77      .401     .716
That last one is thrown in there for the edification of Brian Wilson. Josh Hamilton hit .401 against right-handed pitching this year.
This underscores the Giants’ obvious problem: Hamilton is the only essential lefthanded bat in the Texas line-up. These are not the Phillies. The bats who surround him, particularly Michael Young, Nelson Cruz, and Vladimir Guerrero, are all righties. The other lefties in the Texas lineup are fungible.
In short, unlike the Phillies, the Rangers are not going to whiff themselves out of big innings by virtue of their power being suffocated by a same-side sidearmer. 
The other salient issue of this Series is Bengie Molina. We are in new territory here. Never before did the catcher for one of the World Series teams open the season catching for the other World Series team. Pressed about this in interviews, Molina has been taciturn, almost blank, insisting he doesn’t think it’s much of an advantage. I think Benjie wants us to believe that, but if for no other reason than the Giants have to completely rejigger the pitch signals and any lingering dugout-to-coach or coach-to-hitter signals, he will inconvenience San Francisco mightily.
For my money, the kind of scouting Molina can offer on San Francisco pitching is the kind of information for which teams scramble at this time of year. The Yankees’ National League scouting under the supervision of Stick Michael was so startlingly good that during the ’99 Classic it seemed as if few Yankee fielders had to step more than a foot or two to field or grab a ball, so well did the Yankees know what and where the Braves would hit it. My guess is Molina can provide that – only in real time, on the field – for all of the Giants’ pitchers (and imagine during his own at bats, his familiarity with their pitch qualities, selections and patterns).
The most recent vague comparison to this unique situation would probably be Ted Simmons, who moved from the 1980 Cardinals to the 1981 Brewers, then wound up facing his old team in the ’82 Series. Simmons caught Game One and the Brewers pounded his old St. Louis battery-mate Bob Forsch 10-0 (with Simba hitting a homer). They faced Forsch again in Game Five and beat him up for six runs in five-and-two-thirds. In the other starts they lost to John Stuper (a 1982 rookie Simmons had never caught) and Joaquin Andujar (who joined St. Louis half a year after Simmons was traded). In the other Milwaukee victory, the Brewers were largely stymied by Dave LaPoint (one earned run). He had gone from Milwaukee to St. Louis in the Simmons trade.
For these two reasons alone (we haven’t even mentioned Cliff Lee) I like the Rangers and fast: five or six games.
Just for the record, Molina will join very, very select company when he appears against the Giants in Game One. Only Lonnie Smith, who started 1985 with the Cardinals and then played against them for the Royals in the Classic, has previously pulled off the both-teams stunt. The year before, reliever Sid Monge went from the Padres to the Tigers but did not pitch in the post-season for Detroit. Of all the MLB-issued media guides to all the World Series I’ve covered, the one I cannot find is 1984, so I can’t check my memory that Monge was indeed eligible but just wasn’t used.
If not, he falls into a slightly larger club: playing for both Series teams in one year, but not being eligible for the Classic. Jack Kramer (1951 Giants and Yankees), Johnny Schmitz (1952 Dodgers and Yankees), Jim Bruske (1998 Padres and Yankees), and Chris Ray (2010 Rangers and Giants) are on that list, and if you want to stretch it, so is catcher Eddie Tucker of the 1995 Indians, who wound up the property of the Braves the same year but never playing for them.
So there.

Andy Pettitte: Hall Of Famer?

You haven’t considered that question, have you?
I don’t think it’s anywhere near the 50 most pressing issues of the spring, but it started formulating for me last fall as the veteran Yankees’ lefty cut such an unlikely swath through the post-season. And while the case for a Cooperstown spot for Pettitte is hardly closed, but it is surprisingly compelling.
Comparing across eras is often a dangerous thing, but it does offer a little perspective. And barring a breakdown, at some point in the season ahead Pettitte is going to win his seventh game and pull up into a tie on the all-time victories list with none other than Whitey Ford.
Ford ended what amounted to a 16-year career with a 236-106 record, for a phenomenal winning percentage of .690. Right now Pettitte is at 229-135, which is an impressive .629 (another Yankee great, Herb Pennock, is in Cooperstown with 241 wins and a .598 percentage, and Hal Newhouser of the Tigers is there at 207 with a .579). 
A numbers box follows, just to get to the essence of the thing (the asterisk indicates the numbers have been adjusted to cut out seasons that are just cameos).

                         Ford               Pettitte           Pennock

Seasons              16*                   15                   20*

Wins                   236                  229                  241

Losses                106                  135                  162

Percentage         .690                 .629                 .598

ERA                   2.75                 3.91                 3.60

K                       1956                 2150                1227

W                      1086                  921                  916

20 Win Yrs            2                      2                      2

World Series       10-8                  5-4                   5-0

I’m fascinated by the World Series marks. Pennock made his bones in the post-season, and Ford, from his rookie year of 1950 onwards, became legendary in them. And here’s Pettitte with as many World Series wins as Pennock, and the same post-season percentage as Ford.

I do not go in for lumping all post-season statistics into one number – it is unfair to pitchers pre-1995 and especially pre-1969. Neither should it be ignored that Pettitte is now 13-5 in division and league series. More over, with his triple-play from last fall he has now pitched the decisive game of a playoff series or a World Series an astonishing nine times, and is a tidy 6-1 in such games, with his team having won both of his personal no-decisions, and the one loss being Game Six of the 2003 World Series in which he surrendered exactly one earned run in seven innings. It gets a little less impressive if you include his human torch act in Game Six of the 2001 Series which could have won it for the Yankees – but still, that’s 6-2 in ten potential deciders.
I find Ford was asked to pitch the wrapper three times. He won the finale of the sweep of the Phillies in 1950, got a no decision in the win in Game Six in 1953, and lost the fourth game as the Dodgers swept New York in 1963. As with everything else concerning the post-season, it was tougher for pitchers to get chances to pitch the decider in the days before the playoffs, but Ford did pitch in eleven Series. Pettitte has pitched in no fewer than 28 post-season series (that percentage of deciders pitched is thus still higher than Ford’s).
To this day I think Pettitte deserved the 1996 Cy Young Award, if only for the fact that he went 13-3 after New York losses that season. One wonders if his strong Hall of Fame credentials would be a little more prominently discussed if he’d taken the trophy. If you’d like to be further befuddled by stats and Cooperstown and lefty pitchers, consider one more set: 239-157 (.604), a cumulative post-season mark of 10-5 and a 2-1 record in four deciders. That is David Wells.
YOUR SCORECARD WON’T HELP YOU NOW, MY FRIENDS
I was delighted to settle down, between hospital visits tonight, with MLB Net’s telecast of the Dodgers and White Sox from Arizona, and not merely for the intriguing return of Eric Gagne. Dodgers’ announcer Charley Steiner was my second boss in broadcasting – he hired me 30 years ago last December to jump from UPI Radio to his operation at RKO Radio and from there I was poised to leap into television with CNN (yes, this was before they invented color tv). And I know Charley’s colleague Rick Monday even longer, having interviewed him as far in the past as the 1977 World Series. Rick was later the sports director at Channel 11 in Los Angeles while I held the same post at Channels 5 and 2.

Thumbnail image for 66A.jpgThis monstrosity at the left is included because my friends Charley and Rick were victims of one of the standard media nightmares of the spring. In the bottom of the sixth, the White Sox sent number 83 out to play shortstop. And, of course, as can be the case from the first game of the exhibition season through the last, t
here was no number 83 on the White Sox roster. Managers, especially in split-squad situations and/or road trips, supplement even the usual mass of 40-man roster guys and non-roster invitees with as many as dozen extra minor leaguers on a one-game basis, whose identities are usually written down on the shirt cuff of the visiting Media Relations guy. Anyone in the press box is thus left as helpless as in high school, when whoever kept your scorecard had to exchange rosters with whoever kept theirs (I once had a hockey game in which the rival team wore several years’ worth of uniforms and thus had multiple players wearing the same numbers – they had at least three guys wearing number “5” and tried to fix this by stitching in a little “A” or “B” atop the number).

Anyway, 83 was eventually unmasked as minor leaguer Eduardo Escobar and Rick and Charley moved giddily on to the further disturbing truth that Mr. Escobar was wearing an expandable cap, the surest sign of minor league serfdom. Steiner assured his audience that having been the first pick in the first-ever amateur draft in 1965, Monday suffered no such degradations, whereupon Monday insisted that in his first spring training with the then-Kansas City A’s in 1966, he had been insulted in no less an astonishing way than being assigned uniform number 104.
A-hem.

Monday66.jpg
As they used to say on Letterman, “#104 Rick Monday” is a bit of writer’s embellishment. Conceivably in some instructional camp after they anointed him the first-ever draftee, the A’s made him wear such garb, but it wasn’t in spring training. 
It is kind of marvelous, though, that as late as 1966, number 45 was still the kind of number you gave to a non-roster second-year pro who wasn’t going to make your team. By the time Monday reached the bigs in the fall of ’66 he was wearing 28, and then moved to 7 the following year.
And the White Sox, by the way, later debuted an outfielder named Justin Greene and a pitcher named Justin Cassel (brother of quarterback Matt and pitcher Jack).  Both Justins were wearing number 86.

What The Heck Is This?

Parked on 6th Avenue – for what purpose I have no idea – as bad a touch of sportsmanship (no matter how often it might’ve been used) as I’ve ever seen. 

And worse, what’s with the Hot Wheels paint job?IMG_1405.JPG

Game Six: Godzilla Versus Mega-Damon

Fascinating subtext to Hideki Matsuis five-RBI night and Johnny Damons MVP-caliber performance over the first five games. They are in essence competing for the sane job on the 2010 Yankees. It is unlikely New York wants to trust either in leftfield next year, certainly not at these prices. But either would make – as Matsui already has proven – a top-of-the-line DH.

Game Six: Damon Hurt; Booing The Cheerable

Passing by almost without notice here in the Stadium that Johnny Damon just exited after a not-so-vigorous race from second to score the Yankees fourth run. There was no delay or dither about this; Joe Girardi bounded out of the dugout at innings end to tell Joe West about the change, apparently the result of a calf strain. One wonders if one of the Series previous hurts keyed the New York rally: Shane Victorino not only badly misread Derek Jeters fly, but seemed a little hesitant to dive for it (although obviously he was not leading with the hand hurt by the Burnett Hit By Pitch on Monday). And to prove not everybody gets it, even at Game Six of the World Series, when Pedro Martinez plunked Mark Teixeira to load the bases ahead of Rodriguez and Matsui, much of the crowd here booed. The way Teixeira hasnt hit in this Series, if he doesnt hurt him, Girardi would be happy to carry him to first base on his back if Martinez will keep hitting Teixeira all night.

Game 6: Thoughts From The Commute

Two things popped into my Big Empty Head in route: anybody remember George Steinbrenners last great personnel gasp? His insistence that the Yankees trade Andy Pettitte because he just wasnt tough enough in the critical games? This, as I recall, was in. 1999 and the deal was supposed to send him to…the Phillies. The other thought: what became of the four teams that really did blow 3-1 leads in the Series? The 1985 Cards fell below .500 in 1986 but made it back to the Series in 87 and it was five years until manager Whitey Herzog left the job. The 68 Cards never recovered but skipper Red Schoendienst lasted until 1976. But the 1958 Braves would stagger into another crisis – a tie for what wouldve been a third straight pennant in 1959. But after a disturbing playoff loss to the Dodgers, manager Fred Haney was fired, Milwaukee never again seriously contended, and within seven years the franchise was moving to Atlanta. The 1925 Senators werent competitive again until 1933 and player-manager Bucky Harris was out by 28.

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.

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