Apr 10

Rob Manfred Doesn’t Understand Baseball

Major League Baseball’s primary problem is its leadership. The men running the sport have no clue as to why people love the game. They are obsessed not with the unique nuances and strategies of their sport, but with tinkering and tweaking to the point where it is becoming unrecognizable to its lifelong supporters.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is following in Bud Selig’s footsteps. Selig never understood the fabric of the sport with interleague play and out-of-control expansion, and his attempts to break the union over money culminated in the tactic approval of steroid usage and asterisk-marred home run records.

Manfred is doing the same with juiced baseballs and his attempts to shave time from the game, and now he wants to legislate the use of relief pitchers.

Speaking on ESPN Radio last week he would be in favor of restricting pitching changes during an inning or game.

“You know the problem with relief pitchers is that they’re so good,’’ he said. “I’ve got nothing against relief pitchers but they do two things to the game: The pitching changes themselves slow the game down, and our relief pitchers have become so dominate at the back end that they actually rob action out of the end of the game, the last few innings of the game.’’

Evidently, Manfred has never seen a compelling pennant race or World Series game that boiled down to a confrontation between a great reliever and great hitter, with the tension rising with each pitch.

Mets fans relish the memories of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, the “ball gets by Buckner,’’ game. That one play has become the face of the game, but the real action is what lead up to that play, where the Red Sox bullpen imploded.

That statement confirms Manfred isn’t the right person to lead baseball because he doesn’t understand baseball. Baseball is about pitching.

Instead of bowing to the millennials who want to speed up the game and crave instant offense he should take the time to really watch a game. He’s missing a good show.

Nov 01

Looking For Game 6 History

Whatever happens tonight, I won’t pull a Keith Hernandez and leave before the last out the way he did thirty years ago in Game 6 of the Mets-Red Sox World Series.

I’ll stay to the very end, hoping all the time the Cleveland Indians – the team I grew up rooting for watching on a black-and-white TV set or going to that drafty old barn of a stadium – will hold on to win their first World Series since 1948.

FISK: Historic moment. (FOX)

FISK: Historic moment. (FOX)

There will be unmistakable tension tonight in Cleveland emanating from both dugouts. If the Indians are losing, well, you can read the script running through their players’ minds: “Are we about to blow this?”

Of course, in the Cubs’ dugout, if they are losing and the stadium gets louder and louder, there will be the obvious thoughts of a 103-win season going down the toilet.

For a World Series to be a true classic, it has to go seven games. However, for there to be a Game 7 there has to be a Game 6 first and many of baseball’s greatest games have been a Game 6.

As much as I savor tight, tension-filled baseball, I’d be happy if the Indians did what Kansas City did in Game 6 of the 2014 World Series, which was to rout San Francisco, 10-0.

That night, the Royals were fighting to stay alive, but ran into the buzzsaw otherwise known as Madison Bumgarner, who came back from a Game 5, complete-game shutout to throw five scoreless innings in relief in Game 7.

There have been many memorable Game Sixes, but I’ve chosen five I’ve witnessed personally.

THE GREATEST GAME EVER: To me, this was the best game I’ve seen. I was going to college in Ohio in 1975 and watched the game in the student union. As the game moved into extra innings they kept the building open so we could watch. I was one of the few watching that pulled for the Red Sox in a room full of Reds’ fans.

This game had numerous electrifying moments and produced one of baseball’s most enduring images Carlton Fisk waiving his game-winning, home run ball fair in the 12th inning. That homer was made possible by Bernie Carbo’s three-run, two-strike, pinch-hit game-tying homer in the eighth inning.

Fisk’s moment delayed what Red Sox fans would call the inevitable, as Boston lost Game 7 at Fenway Park.

THE CARDINALS STAY ALIVE: Pitch for pitch, this one compared to the Fisk game as the Cardinals were twice one strike away from elimination in 2011, but rallied to tie with a two-run ninth and two-run tenth to stun the Texas Rangers, 10-9, and force a Game 7, which they won.

The title iced a remarkable season in which the Cardinals overcame a 10 ½-game deficit to reach the playoffs. All too often when a team makes a dramatic run at the postseason, like the Bobby Thomson Giants in 1951 and the Bucky Dent Yankees of 1978, it is emotionally spent by the World Series.

Local boy, David Freese tied it with a two-run triple in the ninth and won it with a homer in the 11thinning.

The game-turned-heavyweight fight featured five ties and six lead changes, and nobody complained that it lasted 4 hours, 33 minutes. That’s one of the beauties of baseball. When it’s compelling and dramatic like these Game Sixes, the games can last indefinitely and will leave you wanting more.

Game 7 was a dud, with the Cardinals wrapping it up, 6-2, the next night.

HAVE ONE FOR KEITH: It will be part of Mets’ lore forever. The Mets steamrolled through the National League, winning 108 games, but their destiny seemed to be derailed when Dave Henderson homered to lead off the tenth and Marty Barrett added a RBI single later that inning.

The Red Sox took a 5-3 lead into the bottom of the inning. The first two Mets, Wally Backman and Hernandez flied out. After getting back to the dugout, Hernandez retreated to manager Davey Johnson’s office where he popped open a beer to watch the Mets’ dreams slip away.

I was watching in my late father-in-law’s den. He was a Mets’ fan and we saw a game at Shea Stadium that summer. Speaking too soon, I told him, “well, it has been a great season for them.’’

But, Gary Carter, Kevin Mitchell and Ray Knight singled off reliever Calvin Schiraldi to pull the Mets a run closer. Bob Stanley threw a wild-pitch that allowed Mitchell to score.

By this time, we knew the outcome was inevitable. We just didn’t know it would happen in one of the most incredible endings in history when Mookie Wilson’s slow roller squirted through Bill Buckner’s legs for a 6-5 victory.

The Mets went on to win Game 7, 8-5. and overcame a three-run deficit to do it.

That game was made possible because the Mets prevailed against Houston over 16 innings in Game 6 of the NLCS. Hernandez called it a crucial victory as it kept the Mets from facing Mike Scott, who beat them in Games 1 and 4.

MAYBE THE WORST CALL EVER:  One of the game’s most infamous calls came in the eighth inning of Game 6 of the 1985 World Series that might have kept St. Louis from winning. Facing elimination and down 1-0 going into the ninth inning, umpire Don Denkinger ruled Kansas City’s Jorge Orta safe at first on a play in which he was clearly out.

The Royals went on to win that game, 2-1, then routed the Cardinals, 11-0, in Game 7.

WE’LL SEE YOU TOMORROW:  That was Jack Buck’s great call after Minnesota’s Kirby Puckett homered in the 11th inning off Atlanta’s Charlie Leibrandt to keep the Series alive for the Twins with a 4-3 victory in the Metrodome.

Puckett’s drive set up Jack Morris’ ten-inning shutout, 1-0, in arguably, outside of Don Larsen’s perfect game, might have been the greatest Series game pitched.

HAIL, THE RALLY MONKEY: I saw this one live, covering the game in Anaheim. I loved the Angels’ rally monkey, which began with a famous movie clip where the monkey was interjected at the critical spot. My favorite was the Animal House screen where John Belushi was on the ladder and instead of the girl undressing you see the monkey.

Often forgotten, perhaps because the game wasn’t decided on a game-ending hit, Anaheim rallied from five runs down in the seventh inning to beat San Francisco, 6-5. The Angels scored three in the seventh and three in the eighth to win.

There as no suspense in Game 7, won 4-1 by the Angels with all the runs scored in the first three innings.

ORIOLES STAY ALIVE:  The Orioles were on the cusp of a championship when they returned home for Game 6 of the 1971 World Series. The Pirates started reliever Bob Moose, who took a 2-0 lead into the sixth. The Orioles chipped away to send the game into extra innings.

The Pirates loaded the bases in the tenth inning, but Dave McNally came out of the bullpen to snuff the threat, and Brooks Robinson won it, 3-2, with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the inning.

However, was Roberto Clemente’s World Series. He homered in Game 7 (he had two overall with four RBI while hitting .414 to be named MVP) as the Pirates won, 2-1.

This Series was noted for playing games at night for the first time and the game has never been the same since.

Oct 28

I Want Bartman To Throw Out First Pitch Tonight

Despite the years 1908 and 1945, can you really call the Chicago Cubs the “underdogs’’ or sentimental favorites in this World Series?

I don’t think so because the Cubs entered the season as heavy favorites to win it all this year. Their off-season shopping of Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward and John Lackey, not to mention their in-season acquisitions of Aroldis Chapman and Mike Montgomery, meant they were built to win.

BARTMAN: Cubs need to do right thing. (FOX)

BARTMAN: Cubs need to do right thing. (FOX)

In some ways, how this team was put together was reminiscent of the Yankees and Theo Epstein’s Red Sox. They played by the economic rules of the game, so I don’t have any problem with how they were constructed. When you consider the youth of their team and management’s willingness to spend, they should be good for a long time.

But, that hardly makes them the underdog. Cleveland’s budget, style of play and lack of fielding a winner since 1948 makes them more a sentimental favorite.

All season we’ve been bombarded with Chicago’s history, about curses and bad luck, but that’s not why they haven’t won.

They haven’t won because of how this team was put together. For decades, Cubs ownership and management – much like the Red Sox did – sold the experience of their quaint, historic stadiums over fielding a winning team.

Cubs’ fans, like Red Sox fans prior to 2004, relished the role of lovable, hard-luck losers.

Nowhere was that more emphasized than in 2003 when Steve Bartman did most any fan would have done when Luis Castillo’s foul pop came down on him. He reached for the ball.

We’ll never know if Moises Alou would have caught the ball. But, the bottom line is the Cubs couldn’t put away the Marlins in the eighth inning. Mark Prior went on to walk Castillo. Alex Gonzalez botched a potential double-play grounder and the inning unfolded and before it was over the Marlins had scored eight runs.

I’ll give you the Bartman play being bad luck, but championship teams have to overcome adversity and the Cubs did not. As the game slipped away from the Cubs, Bartman was showered with debris and threats. The Cubs public relations department had to sneak Bartman out of Wrigley Field for his own safety.

In case anybody forgot, the Cubs blew a 5-3 lead in Game 7. Bartman was in hiding at the time, so how could be be blamed for that one?

The Cubs, who once held a 3-1 games advantage, would be denied again. Bartman was vilified, made out to be the personification of 95 years of bad luck, much the way Boston fans vilified Bill Buckner for his Game 6 error in the 1986 World Series.

When a team loses in horrific fashion, there’s a lot of blame to go around. For Alou and Cubs manager Dusty Baker pin it all on Bartman was inexcusable.

For the past 13 years, Bartman kept a low profile. He did not benefit financially in any way despite the offers. He hasn’t sold his story to the press. Hell, he didn’t even come away with the ball.

Speaking through a friend, Bartman apologized profusely and said he wanted nothing more than his childhood team to win a World Series.

How Cubs’ fans – most whom would have reached for that foul ball themselves – treated Bartman through the years has been reprehensible.

Eventually, the Red Sox and their fans kissed and made up with Buckner. The Cubs could go back to being sentimental favorites once again if they invited Bartman to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before tonight’s Game 3 at Wrigley Field.

It would be a magnanimous and classy gesture. I don’t know if they’ll extend the invitation, and I don’t know if Bartman would accept, but it would put a very human face on this World Series.

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Oct 25

Not On Cubs’ Bandwagon; I Want Indians To Win

While most of the free world wants the Cubs to win the World Series, my feeling is I hope they keep waiting. Maybe not for another 100 years or so, but at least until the Indians win this year.

The essence of the Cubs’ story of frustration is the angst doesn’t seem to end. What will happen if it does? You can make the case Cubs’ fans are identified by all those years of losing. Sometimes their season was over by May. Other times they lost in excruciating fashion. Mets’ fans cheered the collapse in 1969.

Chief Wahoo hasn't smiled since 1948.

Chief Wahoo hasn’t smiled since 1948.

The Steve Bartman game was simply cruel, but after learning of the viciousness of Cubs fans, my sympathy for them faded quickly. ESPN did a wonderful documentary of that incident, that included somebody from their public relations department smuggling him out of Wrigley Field in disguise. For you into trivia: Future Met Moises Alou had a play on the ball hit by another future Met, Luis Castillo.

My heart in this World Series goes to another frustrated franchise – the Indians. They were the team of my youth – Chief Wahoo and all – and their failures weren’t gut wrenching but quite simply they were victims of bad baseball.

When I was 10, I didn’t know anything about political correctness. I only cared about Rocky Colavito, Sam McDowell, Larry Brown and Sonny Siebert. A half-century later, I still wish I didn’t know about political correctness. As if we don’t have other things to be interested in, The New York Times sprawled the tired issue of team nicknames across its sports pages today. Leave it to The Times to take a political stance on the day of the World Series.

My first Indians’ memory was watching them in April of 1965 on a black-and-white Motorola with the rabbit ears placed just right so I could see them beat the Angels on a Leon Wagner homer. “Daddy Wags” they called him. He always had a chaw of chewing tobacco in his cheek. Another thing not politically correct.

My mother saw how thrilled I was and told my dad, “Jim, you need to take John to a game.” He did later that summer, taking me to cavernous Cleveland Municipal Stadium, which was originally built to host an Olympics than never came.

It was July 19, when Lee Stange beat the Orioles, 5-0, and Chuck Hinton homered. Years later, when I was covering the Orioles, I got a photocopy of the box score and gave it to my father.

One of my overriding memories was sitting next to my dad in the middle of a long row. Back then the vendors didn’t throw their food, but simply passed it down the aisle and the money was sent back the same way. When my dad handed me the hot dog I had no idea I was supposed to pass it along, so I started eating it.

Look, I was nine years old at the time. How was I supposed to know?

And, how was I supposed to know the Indians would always lose? They won their first ten games to start the 1966 season, then went to Baltimore and lost a doubleheader, 8-2, 8-3. I listened to both games on the radio – the Indians weren’t on local TV often – and I started crying after the second game.

In an effort to console me, my father said, “you know, some boy your age in Baltimore is very happy.’’

That didn’t make sense to me then and it doesn’t make sense all these years later.

They played a lot of doubleheaders back then, including twi-nighters that started at 5 and usually ended at 11.

On July 25, 1967, they played two in Chicago. I listened to both games and kept score at the kitchen table. The Indians lost the first game, 3-1, when future Met J.C. Martin hit a two-run homer off McDowell, scoring another future Met, Tommie Agee, ahead of him.

I wasn’t happy but decided to stick it out for the second game – all 16 innings.

I thought my patience was going to be rewarded with Duke Sims’ RBI double in the top of the inning. When Ken Berry hit a two-run homer to win, 6-5, in the bottom of the inning off Steve Bailey, whom I completely forgot about until now, I threw my pencil across the room to the background sound of fireworks going off at Comiskey Park.

If I gave it any thought, I wouldn’t have cared about some kid in Chicago being happy. And, sometime next week, I will be very happy if some kid in Chicago cries into his deep-dish pizza.

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Oct 11

With Mets Out, Who Do You Root For?

With the Mets hibernating for the winter, who do you root for in the playoffs? When covering a game or team, I try to be very analytical. But when watching a game where I don’t have a reporting interest, I find myself taking sides. I’ll find a storyline, or a player, or something that makes me pull for one team over another.

What about these playoffs?

Well, two teams – Boston and Texas – are done. Just as well. There’s nothing really compelling about the Rangers, and the Red Sox, frankly, have are boring at times. When they were losing every year, they were the frustrated losers you felt sorry for. However, after winning three World Series, their fans have become insufferable, like they have a sense of entitlement. What other teams does that remind you of?

Let’s look at the field and find that nugget:

Giants: Yes, they’ve won three World Series since 2010, more than most teams have won in a lifetime. The Mets have won only two. But, it is how they play that is attractive. If you were up to 3 in the morning watching Game 3 of their NLDS with the Cubs. They aren’t star based – outside of workhorse Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey – but play as a collective unit. They play baseball the right way, with an attention to fundamentals and hustle. My best friend is a Giants’ fan and I like watching the games with him. They have won ten straight elimination games which is truly amazing. I would like them to send the Series back to Chicago, if for nothing else, to see the panic from Cubs fans.

Cubs: I know their story; they haven’t won the World Series since 1908. I get it, but it isn’t as if this group has been playing for nearly a century. After Steve Bartman, if is hard to empathize with their fan base. On the flip side, I do admire their organization for giving David Wright the third base bag last year after the NLCS. Very classy. But, it’s almost like a badge of honor in how their fan base takes defeat. Outside of Wrigley Field, where is their identity outside of losing. Actually, I think it would be a very cool thing for them not to win until 2018, which would be 110 years between titles.

Dodgers: I’m pulling for a Giants-Dodgers NLCS. That would be historic. That would be run. One of the greatest rivalries in sport highlighted in a Championship series. I’ve met Vin Scully, but he’s not calling the games anymore. Their arrive late-leave early fan base in annoying, but it’s Southern California. What can you do? The Dodgers have some great players to watch, like Clayton Kershaw. Would like to see him break his postseason funk. He’s going today. Of course, you could always root for Chase Utley.

Nationals: You can always root for Daniel Murphy, and I see nothing wrong with that. The Mets have had so many rivals through the years and the Nationals are the current team on their dislike radar. To me, there’s nothing compelling either way that would make me want to either cheer or boo them. Not even Bryce Harper.

Indians: I grew up an Indians fan and watched them struggle for years. This truly is a frustrated fan base. I have a good friend who works for the Indians, plus I have all those years going to that big, empty stadium. I still have the boxscore from the first game my dad took me to, plus that memory of he taking me and my brother out of school for Opening Day. I used to take a tape recorder and sit in the upper deck and do play-by-play.  Often I had an entire section to myself. Rocky Colavito, Sam McDowell, Ray Fosse, Sonny Siebert, Luis Tiant. Those were my guys. Plus, Cleveland Stadium had the world’s greatest mustard. Like the Giants, they also have a lot of players under the radar who play the right way. Credit Terry Francona. It’s good to see him back in the playoffs after he was unfairly run out of Boston.

Blue Jays: When I covered the Orioles and Yankees, Toronto was one of my favorite spots on the tour. Love that city. And, they are the only franchise I know that has their own song that they play during the seventh-inning stretch. The Canadian version of “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.”  Nice fans, except for the moron who threw the beer can. How can any team sell beer in cans these days with the high jackass factor? The Blue Jays are a fun team to watch. Their World Series teams in 1992 and 1993 were underrated on the all-time greatness meter. This is a very good team with a lot of great players. Could either Edwin Encarnacion or Jose Bautista be future Mets if Yoenis Cespedes leaves?

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