Friday, October 5, 2012

Deserve's Got Everything to Do With It

Little Bill (Gene Hackman): "I don't deserve this!"
Will (Clint Eastwood): "Deserve's got nothin' to do with it!"
-- Unforgiven

Here's how I rank the teams in this season's Major League Baseball postseason, based on whether they deserve to win:

10. Texas Rangers, American League Wild Card entry.  Some really good players have been going at it for a long time: Joe Nathan (37 years old), Michael Young (35), Roy Oswalt (also 35), Ryan Dempster (also 35), Mike Adams (34), Adrian Beltre (33), Colby Lewis (32), Josh Hamilton (31), Nelson Cruz (also 31), Ian Kinsler (30), David Murphy (also 30), Mike Napoli (also 30).  And they've got a guy named Elvis.  (Andrus.) None of them has a ring.  (Murphy came the closest, with the Red Sox trading him to the Rangers a few weeks before winning it all in 2007.) And in 41 seasons in Texas, they've never won it all.  Their fans deserve it.

But... Sorry, Strangers, but you blew it.  You lost the 2010 World Series.  You had 2-run, 2-out, 2-strike leads in the 9th AND 10th innings of Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, and you blew both of them.  And you led the AL West by 5 1/2 games on September 5, leading the A's by 13 games at one point, and you ended the season by winning just 2 of your last 9 games, including 2 out of 6 at home.  You needed to win just 1 of the last 3 in Oakland, and you lost them all, including a 12-5 laydown in the finale.  Apparently, it's easy to mess with Texas.  And their fans really don't deserve it, because they also root for the Dallas Cowboys and Stars.  And also the Mavericks, the one Dallas-area team I can stand.  Between them, those teams have won 7 World Championships, including 5 in the last 20 years.  No, the Rangers don't deserve it: They've had their chances, and they've blown them.

Besides, I'll always think of them as the team owned by George W. Bush, and put him in position to be elected Governor of Texas, which put him in position to be appointed President.  Curse of Dubya, anyone?

9. Atlanta Braves, National League Wild Card entry.  They're the Braves.  You should still be sick of them from the late 1990s and early 2000s.  Where is it written that Larry Wayne Jones Jr. has to end his career with a title? Anywhere it is written, tear it up and write something new.

8. St. Louis Cardinals, National League Wild Card entry.  Defending World Champions.  And more World Series wins than any team except the Yankees.  Any player on that team who didn't win a ring last year will have a few more chances -- because the Cards are one of those teams that does it right, spending with the goal of winning.

7. San Francisco Giants, National League West winners.  In their favor, the Giants were a lot of fun when they marched to a World Series win in 2010.  Against them, that was only 2 years ago.  Then, they sure deserved it.  Now? I won't object if they win it all again, but it may be a little too soon for those of us not living in Northern California.

6. New York Yankees, American League East winners.  If I put my pro-Yankee bias aside... They won the World Series just 3 years ago, and they've got some egos.  Guys who deserve a ring but haven't yet got one include Ichiro Suzuki, Curtis Granderson, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Russell Martin.  But most of the players already have at least 1 ring, and Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte -- and the injured, unavailable Mariano Rivera -- have 5 rings.  Manager Joe Girardi has 4, including 1 as a manager.

On the other hand, the Yankees do things the right way: They spend whatever it takes to win the World Series, refusing to sacrifice glory for money.  You don't have to like the Yankees, but, deep down, in places you don't like to talk about at parties, you wish that your favorite team would, even for just one season, do it the Yankee way.  It might wreck your club for 10 seasons, but that one title would be a wonderful memory.

5. Cincinnati Reds, National League Central winners.  The Reds haven't won a Pennant or a World Series in 22 years -- in fact, since Cincinnati has only one other major league team, the woeful Bengals, and the University of Cincinnati Bearcats have been a team known for blowing chances, and Ohio State doesn't count as a Cincinnati team, the Queen City of the Midwest has had little glory since the 1990 World Series.  The Reds have some lovable players, such as Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, Johnny Cueto, no-hitter pitcher Homer Bailey, Aroldis Chapman, and ex-Yankees Miguel Cairo and Dioner Navarro.

On the other and, they also have Bronson Arroyo, the erstwhile steroid-cheating Captain Cornrows of the 2004 Red Sox.  And, like Arroyo, Scott Rolen already has a ring (2006 Cardinals), and he's not easy to root for.  And Cincinnati has long been a very insular, very conservative city.  Over 100 years ago, Mark Twain said that if the world came to an end, it would take Cincinnati 20 years to notice.

4. Detroit Tigers, American League Central winners.  I hold no grudge against the Tigers for beating the Yankees in the 2011 AL Division Series, or even the 2006 version.  The Tigers haven't won a World Series in 28 years.  The City of Detroit, really the entire State of Michigan, could really use this.  Justin Verlander is not just one of the best pitchers in baseball, but one of the good guys.  And Miguel Cabrera won the Triple Crown, something that hasn't happened in baseball in 45 years -- not in my lifetime, and for most of you, not in yours, either.

However, the Tigers do have some guys who don't really deserve a ring.  Cabrera's not that nice a guy, and Prince Fielder, Delmon Young and Phil Coke aren't exactly guys you would want your daughter to date.  Besides, Cabrera already has a ring, with the 2003 Marlins.  And it's not like Detroit hasn't had recent sports glory: The Pistons and the Red Wings have both won titles in the last 8 years.

3. Oakland Athletics, American League West winners.  What a comeback.  These guys have a lot of heart.  Brandon Inge has been at this for 12 years and he's never won a ring.  So has Brian Fuentes.  Bartolo Colon, 15 years.  And with life in Oakland not exactly being a bed of roses, and with the tragedy of pitcher Pat Neshek and their wife losing their newborn baby mere hours after the A's clinched, they deserve a break.  Not to mention that the A's haven't won a Pennant for 22 years or a World Series for 23 years.

The only negative thing I can say about the A's is that I do not want Billy Beane to win a Pennant, because I'm sick of the hype about him.  But he's never won a Pennant -- in fact, he's never won a League Championship Series game, and only once won a postseason series, despite having put together a team that reached the postseason 4 straight years (2000-03) and 5 out of 8 (add 2006, the one year they won the ALDS).

2. Baltimore Orioles, American League Wild Card entry.  Give the O's credit for coming from 10 games behind the Yankees in July to tie them for first place, but they couldn't close the deal.  The Orioles are in the Playoffs for the first time in 15 years, and haven't won a Pennant or a World Series in 29 years.  Baltimore is a terrific city.  And I have to feel for Buck Showalter: He got both the Yankees and the Diamondbacks into the Playoffs, but couldn't get them over the hump, both teams fired him, and both teams won the World Series the next season.  (Are you reading this, Peter Angelos?)

The O's have some longtime veterans who've been going for a ring for ages but haven't got one.  Jim Thome, 22 years, and terrible luck: The Indians lost the '95 and '97 Series, the Phillies didn't reach the postseason again until letter him go, the Dodgers and Twins also lost postseason series with him.  Endy Chavez, 11 years, and suffered through the last 3 Expo seasons in Montreal, a close-but-no-cigar season with the Phillies, 3 excruciating late-season losses with the Mets (in spite of his catch in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, the Mets lost the game and the Pennant, and he was there in '07 and '08 as well), and the most epic collapse in World Series history, last year's Rangers.  Nick Johnson, 10 years, 4 of them plagued by injury, plus 3 more where injuries caused him to miss the season completely, fell just short with the Yankees in 2001, 2003 and 2010, and, in between, like Chavez, was a Last Expo.  Brian Roberts, 12 years in Baltimore, and this is the first time he's had even a winning season.  Randy Wolf, 14 years, including some lean years with the Phillies, and they didn't get good until they traded him, and he fell short in the postseason with the Dodgers and Brewers.

Honestly, I can't find a single reason -- aside from the possibility that they might play the Yankees -- to say the Orioles should lose.

1. Washington Nationals, National League East winners.  This was the first plus-.500 season for a Washington baseball team in 43 years, the first Pennant race season by one in 67 years, and the first postseason appearance for one in 79 years.  They haven't won a Pennant in 79 years or a World Series in 88 years.  The D.C. area hasn't had a title in 20 years, since the 1991-92 Redskins.  And there's some great stories on this team, including Rick Ankiel's comeback, and our old friend Chien-Ming Wang.  Plus, how can you not like Ryan Zimmerman? And they finally let Teddy win!

But they've already tied one hand behind their backs by shutting down Stephen Strasburg, their best pitcher. When you have a shot at your city's first title in nearly a century, you do whatever it takes to do it now, and worry about the future tomorrow.  But that's a mark against the organization, not the players.  The Capital region deserves this more than anyone.

A World Series between Baltimore and Washington? It would make the campus of the University of Maryland a very interesting place over the next month.

*


October 5, 1888: James “Pud” Galvin of the Pittsburgh Pirates defeats the Washington Nationals, 5-1, and becomes the first pitcher to win 300 games in a career. His career win total eventually reached 364, including 2 no-hitters, although it should be pointed out that he retired after the 1892 season, a year before the pitching distance became standardized as 60 feet, 6 inches, so it's hard to say how he would have pitched in the era of Honus Wagner and Ty Cobb -- to say nothing of that of Babe Ruth and Rogers Hornsby, or even that of Jackie Robinson and the nonwhite players who followed him.

As for his potentially giggle-inducing nickname, it was said that Jim Galvin “made the hitters look like pudding.” 

October 5, 1889: New York wins the Pennant on the final day by beating Cleveland 5-3, while Boston loses in Pittsburgh 6-1. Yet another New York edges out Boston story. Except this might be the first, the League is the National, the New York team is the Giants, and the Boston team is the Beaneaters, who would later be renamed the Braves.  And the Cleveland team is the NL team known as the Spiders.

October 5, 1910: Philadelphia Athletics manager/co-owner Connie Mack inserts his son Earle Mack behind the plate in a game against the New York Highlanders. This appears to be the first time a manager father put his player son in a game.

Earle‚ who hit .135 in 26 minor league games this year‚ responds with a single and triple while catching Eddie Plank and Jack Coombs. The Highlanders beat the A's 7-4, but it was hardly Earle’s fault.

Earle will mop up in late-season games next year and again in 1914‚ and serve for 25 years as his father's coach, before moving into the front office. His brother Connie Jr. would also play for the A’s. In 1950, Earle, Connie Jr. and their other brother Roy would finally maneuver their 88-year-old father out of the day-to-day operations of the club. No manager would again put his son into a game until 1985, when Yogi Berra played his son Dale with the Yankees.

*

October 5, 1912, 100 years ago today: The New York Highlanders defeat the Washington Senators, 8-6 at Hilltop Park in Manhattan’s Washington Heights.  This is the last game they will play under the Highlanders name, and also their last game at Hilltop.  The Senators were also the team they played in their first game and the first home game, both in 1903.

When the team begins play in April of next year, it will be under the nickname they’ve informally had since nearly the beginning of the franchise, the Yankees; and it will be as tenants of the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds.  The Highlanders/Yankees finish 50-102, 8th and last in the American League.  Never again have they lost as many as 100 games, and only twice in a century have they finished last in their League or Divison.

Also on this day, 100 years ago: The Brooklyn Dodgers play their last game at Washington Park, losing 1-0 to their arch-rivals, the New York Giants, who will soon start the World Series against the Boston Red Sox.  The Dodgers had played at Washington Park since 1898, and move into a new park, named Ebbets Field for their owner, Charles Hercules Ebbets.

Most of Washington Park was demolished in 1916, but the left field wall still stands on 3rd Avenue, bordering a Con Edison yard.

*

October 5, 1922, 90 years ago today: John “Jock” Stein is born in Burnbank, Scotland. Having played for Glasgow's Celtic Football Club in the 1950s, in the '60s and '70s he managed them to 10 League Championships, 8 Scottish Cups, and the 1967 European Cup -- the first British club and first British manager ever to accomplish the feat. He later managed the Scotland national team, and died of a heart attack during a World Cup qualifying match with Wales in 1985.

October 5, 1937, 75 years ago today: Barry Switzer is born in Crossett, Arkansas.  He played at the University of Arkansas and was an assistant coach on their 1964 National Championship team, and coached the University of Oklahoma to 12 Big Eight titles and National Championships in 1974, ’75 and ’85.  But a record of corruption dogged him, and, much like Bill Belichick, he has mostly been unrepentant.  He coached the Dallas Cowboys to the Super Bowl in the 1995-96 season, their last such win.  He and the Cowboy coach he succeeded, Jimmy Johnson, had some memorable battles when Switzer was at Oklahoma and Johnson at Oklahoma State and the University of Miami, and they are – however dubiously, especially in the college game – the only men to coach both NCAA and NFL Championship teams.

October 5, 1941: Arnold Malcolm Owen, better known as Mickey Owen, was a four-time National League All-Star as catcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers, was elected a County Sheriff, and ran the Mickey Owen Baseball School, and for the last 64 years of his life was decent enough to field questions about the one part of his life that everyone seems to remember.

I saw an interview once, with a Dodger fan, whose name I’ve forgotten, citing a far more important, and more traumatic, event that happened just two months later: “I was there. I remember that like I remember Pearl Harbor.”

It was Game 4 of the World Series. The Yankees led the Dodgers 2 games to 1, but trailed the Dodgers 4-3 in the top of the 9th. Two out. Reliever Hugh Casey was on the mound for the Dodgers, and Tommy Henrich came to bat for the Yankees. Casey got two strikes. Then he threw...

He said it was a curveball. Henrich also thought it was a curveball. But many observers, including the Yankees’ rookie shortstop, Phil Rizzuto, thought it was a spitball.

Henrich swung and missed. Strike three. Ballgame over. Dodgers win, and the World Series is tied at 2 games apiece.

Except... Owen didn’t catch the third strike. The ball tailed away from him, and he couldn’t hold onto it. It rolled all the way to the screen. Henrich saw this, and ran to first, and Owen didn’t even time to throw.

It is the most famous passed ball in baseball history, but if it was a spitball, which was and remains an illegal pitch anyway, then it should be the most famous wild pitch, and Casey rather than Owen should be faulted.

No matter. Casey only needed to get one more out. Even if Henrich represented the tying run and the next batter represented the winning run. Just one more out.  But the next batter was Joe DiMaggio, in the year when he had his 56-game hitting streak and had become the most celebrated athlete in America, ahead of Ted Williams and his .406 average, ahead of football stars Sammy Baugh, Sid Luckman and Don Hutson, ahead of even heavyweight champion Joe Louis.  DiMaggio singled to left. Now the tying run was on 2nd, the potential winning run on 1st.

But there were still two outs. If Casey could get the next batter, it would still end with a Dodger victory.  The batter was Charlie Keller. At this point in his career, before a back injury curtailed it, he looked like he was headed to the Hall of Fame. And he did nothing to dispel that in this at-bat: He rocketed a Casey delivery off the right-field wall, and Henrich and DiMaggio scored.  Keller would later say, “When I got to second base, you could have heard a pin drop in Ebbets Field.” The noisiest, most raucous ballpark of his time had been stunned into silence.  The Yankees scored two more runs in the inning, won 7-4, and won the World Series in the next day’s Game 5.

Keller would also say that, having won their first Pennant in 21 years, and having gotten past the arch-rival New York Giants to do it -- the Giants' last Pennant had been 4 years earlier and their last World Series win 8 -- Dodger fans were talking about "taking over New York," that they were now more popular than the Giants (probably true), and that soon they would beat the Yankees and were already more popular.

Sound familiar? It was just as stupid then as it has been in recent years when coming from Met fans, the children and grandchildren of the Dodger and Giant fans of the Forties and Fifties.
But don’t blame Owen for losing the '41 Series.  It was Dodger manager Leo Durocher who messed up the pitching rotation that had won the Pennant -- he admitted it, a rare occasion when Leo the Lip didn't blame someone else, such as an umpire or a dirty player on the other team, and didn't try to claim credit solely for himself.  It was Yankee pitcher Marius Russo who, the day before, had not only pitched brilliantly but hit a line drive off the knee of his opposite number, Giant pitcher and Dodger nemesis turned Dodger hero Fred Fitzsimmons, literally knocking him out of the game and the Series.  It was Henrich who was alert enough to realize he could take first, and it was DiMaggio and Keller who followed it up with key hits.

And, frankly, it was the Yankees. They were just the better team. Certainly, with many of the men on that '41 team having played on World Championship teams of '39, '38, some '37 and '36, a few even in '32, they were much more experienced. The Dodgers had finished 2nd in '40 and 3rd in '39, but before that the team hadn't been in a Pennant race since '24 or a World Series since '20. Only Durocher, Joe Medwick (both '34 Cardinals), Fitzsimmons ('33 and '36 Giants), Billy Herman ('32, '35 and '38 Cubs), Johnny Allen ('32 Yankees) and a washed-up Paul Waner ('27 Pirates) had appeared in a World Series before.

Owen was widely respected prior to the '41 Series, and most Dodger fans didn’t go on to hate him. Certainly, he escaped the scorn that was heaped on Ralph Branca after 1951. And neither one of them got the kind of treatment that Bill Buckner got from Boston fans after 1986.  Which is a good thing. Nobody deserves that. Well, maybe not nobody... But certainly not Buckner, nor Branca, nor Owen.

Owen died on July 13, 2005, in his home town of Mount Vernon, Missouri. He was 89. Henrich died on December 1, 2009, as the last survivor of this game. He was also the last surviving person who had been a teammate of Lou Gehrig. Herman Franks, who later helped steal a Pennant from the Dodgers as a 1951 New York Giant, had died earlier in 2009 as the last surviving ’41 Dodger.

*

October 5, 1942, 70 years ago today: The St. Louis Cardinals win the World Series over the Yankees in 5 games, taking the last 3 at Yankee Stadium after splitting the first 2 in St. Louis. It is the only World Series the Yankees will lose between 1926 and 1955. It beings a 5-season stretch in which the Cards win 4 Pennants and 3 World Championships. The year they will miss the World Series will be 1945 -- the first full season since his arrival that Stan Musial was not in Cardinal red. (He was in Navy blue instead.) Musial, a few weeks away from his 92nd birthday, is the only surviving player from this Series.

October 5, 1949: Game 1 of the World Series. Allie Reynolds of the Yankees and Don Newcombe of the Dodgers pitch a scoreless game, taking it to the bottom of the 9th. Tommy Henrich leads that inning off for the Yankees, and shows why Yankee broadcaster Mel Allen nicknamed him “Old Reliable.” Or maybe he just liked hitting against the Dodgers. Or maybe he liked October 5 – it was, after all, the 8th anniversary of his benefit of Mickey Owen’s Muff. Henrich hits a home run into the right-field stands, and the Yankees win, 1-0.

That was pretty much the Series: Despite putting together one of the best teams in franchise history, the Dodgers couldn’t beat the Yankees, winning only Game 2 on a shutout by Preacher Roe. Henrich’s shot is the first game-ending home run in the history of postseason baseball, the first October “walkoff.”

Newcombe is the only Dodger still alive who played in this game, 63 years later. Yogi Berra and Jerry Coleman are the last surviving Yankees from it.

On this same day, Bill James is born. He would later be known as the author of the Bill James Baseball Abstract, beginning the serious study of baseball statistics. Later still, he would join the front office of the Boston Red Sox, where he would become a dirty bastard.
October 5, 1950: Game 2 of the World Series. An exhausted Robin Roberts somehow manages to hold the Yankees to a 1-1 tie for the Phillies, into the top of the 10th inning. But Joe DiMaggio hits a home run into the left-field stands at Shibe Park, and the Yankees win, 2-1.

The first three games of this Series are all close, so the Phillies did have their chanes. And it should be noted that their second-best pitcher, behind the future Hall-of-Famer Roberts, was Curt Simmons, and he had been drafted to serve in the Korean War. But the Yankees would sweep the Series.

Still alive from this game, 62 years later: Berra and Coleman for the Yankees; for the Phillies, 3 reserves, Stan Lopata, Ralph "Putsy" Caballero, and Jackie Mayo, who was a defensive replacement for Sisler in the bottom of the 10th. Whitey Ford would start and win Game 4, and is still alive, but did not appear in Game 2.
October 5, 1953: Game 6 of the World Series. Billy Martin singles up the middle in the bottom of the 9th, his record-tying 12th hit of the Series, driving in Hank Bauer with the winning run.

It is the Yankees’ 16th World Championship, and their 5th in a row. Three in a row has been done since, but not four, and certainly not five. The Montreal Canadiens would soon start a streak of five straight Stanley Cups, but they were unable to make it six. The Boston Celtics would later win eight straight NBA Titles, but basketball didn’t exactly get the best athletes then.

This was the last World Series, and the last Pennant in either League, won by an all-white team. The next season, the Yanks would lose the American League Pennant to the well-integrated Cleveland Indians, and the argument of, “Why integrate? We’re winning with what we’ve got?” goes by the boards. Elston Howard becomes the first black man to play for the Yankees the following April, and the team wins 9 Pennants and 4 World Series in the next 10 years.

Still alive from this game, 59 years later: Yankees Berra and Ford, and Dodgers Carl Erskine and Bobby Morgan. (Newcombe was in the Army for the Korean War in 1952 and '53, as Ford was in '51 and '52.)

October 5, 1957: The first World Series game in the State of Wisconsin is played. The Yankees beat the Milwaukee Braves 12-3 at Milwaukee County Stadium in Game 3.
October 5, 1966: In the first World Series game in Baltimore Orioles history, Polish-born reliever Moe Drabowsky has to bail out Dave McNally, and sets a Series record with 11 strikeouts in relief. Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson both hit first-inning home runs, and the Orioles beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, 5-2. They would go on to sweep, with McNally redeeming himself by winning the clinching game.

McNally and Drabowsky, and Dodger starter Don Drysdale, have died. Still alive from this game, 46 years later: Orioles Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, John "Boog" Powell, Luis Aparicio (though better-known as a Chicago White Sock), Russ Snyder, Andy Etchebarren, future Yankee World Series hero Paul Blair, and future Met manager Davey Johnson; and Dodgers Maury Wills, Tommy Davis, Lou Johnson, Jim Lefebvre, Wes Parker, Ron Fairly, Joe Moeller, Jim Barbieri, and Fair Lawn, New Jersey native Ron Perranoski.  Future Hall-of-Fame pitchers Sandy Koufax and Jim Palmer, both still alive, would start Game 2; it would be Koufax's last, though only he and a few others knew it at the time, while Palmer was just getting started.
October 5, 1972, 40 years ago today: Grant Henry Hill is born in Dallas, where his father, Calvin Hill, plays as a running back for the Cowboys.  Although he helped Duke University win back-to-back National Championships in 1991 and ’92, his pro career has been beset with injuries – he’s been called the NBA’s version of Ken Griffey Jr.  The closest he’s come to an NBA title is the Finals with the 2007 Orlando Magic.  Having also played for the Detroit Pistons and the Phoenix Suns, and having recently signed with the Los Angeles Clippers, he is nearly the NBA’s oldest player – Kurt Thomas is one day older.

October 5, 1982, 30 years ago today: The New Jersey Devils play their first regular season game.  It is at the Brendan Byrne Arena (now the Izod Center) in East Rutherford, the opponent is the similarly-woeful Pittsburgh Penguins, Captain Don Lever scores the first New Jersey goal, and the game ends in a 3-3 tie.

It is easy to say now that the Devils have since gotten better, and made their point to both the New York Rangers (The Scum) and the Philadelphia Flyers (The Philth).  But saying that those teams suck is, for the moment, pointless, as their players are also locked out at the moment.  Right now, all 30 sets of NHL fans are in the same boat.  And it's not the Titanic.  This sinking was no accident.  The boat is the Lusitania.

October 5, 2001: At what was then known as Pacific Bell Park (now AT&T Park), Barry Bonds hits his 71st and 72nd home runs of the season, to set a new major league single-season record... which we now know is bogus. The first-inning homer, his 71st, is off Dodger pitcher Chan Ho Park. But the Dodgers win the game, 11-10, and, to make matters worse, both clinch the NL West and eliminate the giants from Playoff eligibility.

Bonds will raise his total to 73*. With teammate Rich Aurilia’s 37 (as far as I know, his are legit), they set a (tainted) NL record for homers by teammates, 110. The real major league record remains 115, by Mickey Mantle (54) and Roger Maris (still the legit record of 61) in 1961.

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