Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Honesty Is the Best Policy

Last night, baseball's All-Star Game was played at Target Field in Minneapolis, and the American League beat the National League, 5-3. Mike Trout of the Whatever They're Calling Themselves This Season Angels of Anaheim was named the game's Most Valuable Player. He tripled home a run in the 1st inning. The runner he drove home? Derek Jeter.

Trout then scored on a home run by Miguel Cabrera. The NL tied it up in the top of the 4th, but in the bottom of the 5th, Trout doubled home the go-ahead run.

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The game was set up as a fancy farewell for the retiring Yankee Captain. When Jeter batted in the bottom of the 1st, the NL starter, Adam Wainwright of the St. Louis Cardinals, threw Jeter a 91-miles-per-hour 4-seam fastball. It was a ball.

Then he threw Jeter 90-miles-per-hour cut fastball. It was on the outside corner, and Jeter, as he has so many times before, hit the ball to the opposite field, to right field, and it went for a double. This was followed by Trouty's triple and Miggy's homer.

After the game, Wainwright said he gave Jeter a good pitch to hit, as a farewell gift.

This is not unprecedented. In the 2001 All-Star Game, Chan Ho Park grooved one to Cal Ripken, who hit it out. And, back in 1968, with Mickey Mantle at 534 home runs, tied with Jimmie Foxx for 3rd all-time behind Babe Ruth and Willie Mays (Hank Aaron hadn't yet passed any of them), Denny McLain served one up for the Mick to pass Foxx, saying -- in words that seem a lot less funny since Mickey's drink-induced early death -- "If a guy's bought 534 drinks in the same bar, he's entitled to one on the house."

Wainwright admitted that he gave Jeter the "cookie." And the media went nuts over it. How dare he?

Not, "How dare he serve one up to Jeter," but, "How dare he admit it?" That's how he sullied the good name of the All-Star Game: Not by compromising his team's chance of winning, but by confessing that he had.

Well, Wainwright didn't groove the 1st pitch to Jeter. Also, Jeter later got a 2nd hit off a different pitcher, Alfredo Simon. Did he also groove it?

"Cookie" or not, Jeter still had to make the cookie crumble. Let's not forget that Sandy Koufax tipped his pitches: If he had his elbows out as he started his motion, he was going to throw a fastball; if he tucked his elbows in, he was going to throw a curveball. And Koufax only had those 2 pitches -- the best fastball of his era and the best curve of his era. Everyone knew what was coming, and they still couldn't hit him. Like Ted Williams said, "Hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports."

I don't recall anybody getting on Park's case for giving Ripken that nice juicy meatball in 2001. Judging by the reaction at the time, the media was quite willing to accept, or at least pretend, that it was on the level, because this was The Great Cal Ripken Jr., The Invincible Iron Man (eat your heart out, Robert Downey Jr.), Baseball Immortal.

There is, of course, a big difference: Since 2003, the League that wins the All-Star Game gets home-field advantage in the World Series.

Well, is that really a big deal? No, it hasn't been. In the first 11 years that this has been the case, only once has the World Series gone the full 7 games, with the home team winning Games 6 and 7 to take it: The 2011 St. Louis Cardinals over the Texas Rangers. Otherwise:

2003: The Florida Marlins took 2 out of 3 at Yankee Stadium to beat the Yankees.
2004: The Boston Red Sox swept the Cardinals, including both games at Busch Stadium, including the clinching Game 4.
2005: The Chicago White Sox swept the Houston Astros, including both games at Minute Maid Park, including the clinching Game 4.
2006: The Cardinals took Game 1 at Comerica Park, and beat the Detroit Tigers in 5 games.
2007: The Red Sox swept the Colorado Rockies, including both games at Coors Field, including the clinching Game 4.
2008: The Philadelphia Phillies took Game 1 at Tropicana Field, and beat the Tampa Bays Rays in 5.
2009: The Yankees took 2 out of 3 at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, and beat the Phils in 6.
2010: The San Francisco Giants took 2 out of 3 at whatever the Texas Rangers' ballpark was called at the time, including the clinching Game 5.
2012: The Giants swept the Tigers, including both games at Comerica, including the clinching Game 4.
2013: The Red Sox took 2 out of 3 at Busch Stadium, and beat the Cards in 6.

So has home-field advantage really mattered since then? Only once in 11 years. So let's not pretend it's a sacred thing. It means much more in other sports than it does in baseball.

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If the media's problem with this apparent "cookie" is that Wainwright admitted it, then he's not the problem here. The media is: Don't get all hot and bothered because a player was honest, and because he was doing something that made a great story -- both things that the media always say they want. I think it's refreshing.

Would it really have been better if he'd been asked, "Did you groove one to Jeter?" and said, "What do you think?" or "That's my little secret"? No. If there's one thing the massive hypocrisy in baseball these last 20 to 25 years has proven, it's that honesty is the best policy.
 
I'd say, "If you don't believe me, ask David Ortiz" -- but the big fat cheating son of a bitch would probably lie about that, too.

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