The Bullpen: World Series matchups that would intrigue this season
The Detroit Tigers, with Miguel Cabrera (above), and the St. Louis Cardinals would make an intriguing World Series matchup, Richard Griffin writes.
VOLUME XVIII, Oct. 9, 2012
While all eight of this year’s playoff teams remain alive — some of them barely — here’s a quick look at a half dozen of the most intriguing World Series match-ups that are possible in 2012. It should be noted on behalf of parity that since 2001, pretty much the first 11 seasons of this century, there have been nine different Fall Classic winners — the Diamondbacks, Angels, Marlins, Red Sox (twice), the White Sox, Cardinals (twice), Phillies, Yankees and Giants.
Among baseball’s current elite eight, to steal a term from college hoops, are five teams that have yet to win a championship during this century and the Nationals (nee Expos) that have never won.
Here’s the suggested half dozen prime matchups.
1. Tigers vs. Cardinals: The 1968 World Series was one of the most interesting and important Fall Classics ever. The summers of 1967-68 had been devastating for the city of Detroit, with race riots and discontent, stemming from economic issues and, ultimately, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy in ’68. The lasting image is of Tigers star Willie Horton, 25 at the time, standing on a car in his uniform during the ’67 riots trying passionately to restore calm.
Finally, in 1968, when the city’s citizens needed something to bring them together, it was baseball and the Tigers that succeeded. It was a great series, dominated by the pitching of Bob Gibson, Mickey Lolich and Denny McLain. Horton hit .304 in the Series and threw out Lou Brock at the plate at a key moment in Game 5. The Tigers won in seven games, even though Gibson was a superstar. It was the final World Series played before expansion and the advent of four divisions.
2. Yankees vs. Reds: This potential Series would bring back memories of Sparky Anderson’s Big Red Machine against Billy Martin’s Bronx Zoo. The Red beat the Yankees in ’76 for their second straight championship. As good as this edition of the Reds is, it’s hard to match the ’76 version with future Hall of Famers, catcher Johnny Bench, first-baseman Tony Perez and second-baseman Joe Morgan. They also had all-time hits champ Pete Rose and classy shortstop Dave Concepcion.
3. A’s vs. Giants: As we were playing before we were so rudely interrupted. This would be a rematch of the ’89 World Series, which, of course, was affected in a big way by a little trembler in the Bay Area that brought down parts of the Bay Bridge and caused a 10-day interruption. The quake hit at 5:03 p.m. on Oct. 17, just as ABC’s Al Michaels and Tim McCarver were sitting on the ledge of the window in the broadcast booth previewing Game 3. The signal was lost and the lights went out. I was so discombobulated I forgot to call home until 3 a.m. in the East.
The powerful A’s, led by Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, the Bash Brothers and by Rickey Henderson, were expected to dominate and did. Using just two starters, Dave Stewart and Mike Moore, the A’s swept the series, but people only remember ‘89 as The Earthquake Series.
4. A’s vs. Reds: The last time these teams met was 1990. The A’s were supposed to dominate the surprise NL champion Reds. Oakland was playing its third straight World Series under Tony LaRussa. But the Reds, with Jose Rijo pitching and Eric Davis on offence, swept the overconfident A’s, giving controversial owner, the late Marge Schott, her only world title.
That season, current Reds’ GM Walt Jocketty was the A’s director of baseball administration, while current A’s GM Billy Beane was in his first season as an advance scout. GM Sandy Alderson promoted Beane to become an assistant in ’94 and the Moneyball Era began, competing on a budget by finding undervalued tools through certain statistics. That advantage has all but disappeared.
5. O’s vs. Nationals: A potential Battle of the Beltway. This is particularly intriguing because of the proximity of the two teams, the fact that Nats manager Davey Johnson led the O’s in ’97 the last time they made the playoffs, the fact that you fly into Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the fact that the O’s own a big chunk of the Nats broadcast contracts as part of allowing baseball to move the Expos into their home territory and the fact that both teams have been bad for a decade.
6. Yankees vs. Giants: It was 50 years ago that Willie McCovey’s ninth-inning line drive that could have tied the game was speared by second baseman Bobby Richardson giving the Yanks a seven-game series win over the Giants. But this rivalry goes all the way back to 1921, the first year that the Yankees franchise ever went to a Fall Classic.
In ’21, the Yankees and Giants played a best-of-nine series with all games played at the Polo Grounds. It wasn’t even a Subway Series as both teams played at the same park and alternated as home team. It was Babe Ruth’s power vs. manager John McGraw’s smallball. The Yankees held a 3-2 lead in games, but Babe Ruth wrenched his knee and missed the final three games, all won by the Giants. The two teams met at the Polo Grounds again in 1922, won by the Giants. The Yankees moved into Yankee Stadium across the river from the Polo Grounds in 1923 and finally beat the Giants.
Why is baseball is the only major professional sport that allows its officials to be embarrassed on television for nine innings every night in the post-season. It’s because of that annoying, useless on-screen strike box that records electronically whether a pitch is in the strike zone or not.
Baseball sets its umpires up for failure with that strike box. If I headed up the umpires union I would be royally miffed. If a pitch hits the box and the ump calls it a strike, that’s OK, it was supposed to be a strike. But if a pitch is shown as missing the box and the ump calls it a strike, millions of viewers are immediately thinking,” What an incompetent bum.” It’s no win for the men in blue.
And what’s the point of the exercise. It’s distracting from the action. Fact is it’s not a strike unless the umpire calls it a strike. The focus should be on the game itself. The box is just a self-congratulatory pat on the back for the networks to say, “Hey, look what we can do with technology.”
Yes, tennis has the computer graphic for balls in and out, but that is only ever shown if the player on the court challenges a call. Football’s instant replays sometimes show referees making a mistake, but coaches have the red flag that they can heave onto the field for a challenge and they all have coaches in the booth who see the same replays that you see at home, so there is a point to the replays in terms of getting the calls right. Hockey has controversial goals reviewed in Toronto and sometimes calls are reversed, so there is a point to that. But there is no point to the strike box.
Example: In Detroit, in Game 1 of the ALDS, A’s hitters complained all night about the strike calls that helped Justin Verlander to 11 strikeouts, but after the game the Cy Young worthy right-hander pointed out that the strike zone was very consistent all night for both teams and he praised the home plate umpire. Clearly, once he had zeroed in on where the strike zone was being called, Verlander took advantage, but the on-screen graphic made it seem the ump was missing calls all night.
If you want to remove the human element from the game, why not let the K-box make all the strike calls. It will never happen so why bother having it on the screen. It takes away from the joy of the game. It’s like if basketball had an automatic yellow box super-imposed around every player’s pivot foot when he received a pass and announcers constantly harped on how many times a pivot foot moves before the ball is put on the floor. They would be right, but what’s the point if it’s not called?
Hey, television, cease and desist with the strike box in baseball. It’s annoying and distracting and does nothing for the promotion of an otherwise great sport.
BLUE JAYS WEEK . . . Oct. 1-9, 2012
SEASON: The Jays ended their season with a flourish, sweeping the Twins to go home at least with the knowledge that they avoided losing 90 games, with a record of 73-89. How disappointing were they? At the start of the year, many expected them to maybe finish at .500 again. They fell eight victories shy even with a bunch of major pitching injuries. A healthy ace, Ricky Romero posted a disappointing 9-14 record with a 5.77 ERA. Considering it was expected that Ricky Romero, the staff ace, would win around 17 games, there’s your eight-win difference, so maybe the season was merely as expected, rather than to be considered a huge disappointment. Nah, it was a huge disappointment.
CLUBHOUSE CONTROVERSY : Manager John Farrell was forced to defend his leadership abilities after there were rumblings from unnamed Jays that the clubhouse lacked discipline and players were allowed to do whatever they want, which critics said, is what led to the Yunel Escobar eye-blackout.
While some uninformed critics were unwilling to go on the record, there was no such reluctance from the retiring 45-year-old Omar Vizquel. He criticized the manager and coaching staff for not correcting fundamental mistakes on the field and for not having consequences for bad play and bad behaviour.
Of course, it must be pointed out that Vizquel has a film biography unfolding and is angling to move from the field into someone’s manager’s office, so there may be extenuating reasons for his forthright criticisms. The fact is that despite concluding a Hall of Fame career with the Jays, Vizquel brought little of the mentoring expectations for Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria and other young Latins and when Jose Bautista went home for his wrist surgery and recovery, the clubhouse was set adrift on an ocean of no consequence, leaving plenty of room, much opportunity for a veteran like Vizquel to step up, if he saw such behaviour was occurring as he described. To wait until the last week to point it out was selfish.
A CLASSY SENDOFF FOR OMAR : Jays fans showed a lot of class in the way they sent Vizquel off to retirement in his final game. Farrell started Vizquel at shortstop on Wednesday vs. the Twins and he did not disappoint his fans and a huge entourage that showed up for the sendoff, including his documentary crew, many media members from the Caribbean rim, plus Luis Aparicio, Andres Galarraga, Carlos Baerga and Roberto Alomar.
Watching Vizquel play his finale brought a smile to everyone as he showed flashes of his old brilliance. On a short fly ball to left-centre he raced out with his back to home plate, looking directly back over his head and never breaking stride, he glided under the ball, made a basket catch and flipped the ball up to his bare hand, flipping it casually to centre-fielder Anthony Gose, who had a huge smile on his face. Later in the clubhouse, as Vizquel came in from a battery of interviews, a group of three Jays pitchers shook their heads in admiration as he walked by, with Romero pointing out how he enjoyed the unnoticed move of Omar pushing his brim off to one side as he raced out so he could better see the ball.
Oh yeah, Vizquel also singled to run his career total to 2,877, 40th in MLB history. He is eligible for the Hall-of-Fame in the summer of 2018. That will be the Chipper Jones year, also.
MLB PLAYOFF TEAM POWER RANKINGS Oct. 9 (last week’s rankings in parentheses)
1. Cincinnati Reds (6)
Dusty Baker has a Zen-master look to him after coming back from mini-stroke.
2. New York Yankees (5)
A-Rod hasn’t been the same since Kate Hudson ditched him
3. Washington Nationals (1)
The U.S. capital has not had a Series champ since 1924 led by Walter Johnson
4. Detroit Tigers (9)
These guys could lose because of their defence and closer
5. Baltimore Orioles (4)
O’s just need to lead after seven innings and it’s game over
6. St. Louis Cardinals (11)
The Cards replaced Pujols with Carlos Beltran without missing a beat
7. Oakland A’s (3)
The young pitching is feeling the October heat
8. San Francisco Giants (10)
The lack of consistent offence puts too much pressure on starting pitching
I’ll be posting a full mailbag when I get home later this week, but for now here’s a sampling of questions pulled from a recent sack.
I am reviewing a psychology article called The Perils of Perfection in Sports. I keep thinking of Ricky Romero. He was like Atlas with the world on his shoulders this season. I remember when one of the starters (?) was injured, Romero volunteered to start the next game when he had pitched the day before. Richard, do you think that since he was considered the Jay’s “ace-starter” that he put too much on his own shoulders? Or could he have felt pressure from the coaches or fans? I think the shoes that he had to fill were too big for him to mentally handle this year. Your thoughts?
Susan Roberts, Sarnia
A. That’s a solid observation and at times it certainly looked like Ricky was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. He never seemed to be enjoying himself when he pitched, even in the first inning before his personal roof had started to cave in. His look was that of a man who was anticipating the worst. It’s like the faces in the theatre lineup for the latest Adam Sandler movie. Romero missed Brandon Morrow a lot and if they are both healthy, I expect a better season from Romero starting at spring training. Pitching failure can be psychological, but even that can translate into physical, like gripping the ball a little too tightly and losing some of your normal velocity, or being frustrated by hitters that have learned to lay off your changeup and having nobody to really commiserate with after games. There have been many pitchers that have a horrible year and bounce back. As long as there was nothing physical that was being hidden, if Atlas shrugged, then so can Romero.
Always enjoy reading your mailbag. I am confused by the reports of the Blue Jays allowing John Farrell to walk over to the Boston Red Sox. If the Jays were to get Clay Buchholz I would say for sure. Reports today say that it would be a fringe major-leaguer. Surely the Blue Jays would depend more than that in return than to allow the Red Sox to get the manager they want for nothing. What concerns me more is if the Sox turn it around with Farrell they will be the main competition blocking the Jays from the post-season. Your thoughts?
Andrew S., Alberta
A. If Farrell was allowed to go to the Red Sox it would be because he tells Alex Anthopoulos does not want to stay with the Jays. The Jays would then ask for reasonable compensation in terms of a player. The Jays are in the driver’s seat. If the Sox contact Farrell without going through the Jays, that’s big trouble. People are suggesting the player compensation would be minimal in terms of talent because when GM Theo Epstein went to the Cubs, the Sox did not get much in return. So that’s the precedent, but the Sox did not play that game correctly. They let Epstein go to the Cubs THEN tried to get players back. What motivation would the Cubs have to give them a decent player. They already had Epstein. The Jays should, up front, demand Rubby de la Rosa or Clay Buchholz then wait for a response. It’s all about making the Jays better. If a player can be more valuable moving forward than their current manager, then Anthopoulos would be sorely tempted. That trade agreement would have to be reached before the Jays allow the Red Sox a chance to talk to Farrell. It says here that the Red Sox will not want to do that and will head in another direction for their next skipper.
Q. Last year, Alex Anthopoulos said payroll dollars are available when he can guarantee success. With his credibility and job perhaps on the line, he needs to present a strong case to his bosses. If you’re AA, how do you convince Rogers that the time to spend is now?
Erich von Stroheim, Toronto
A. If I’m Alex and I have a player transaction, whether it be free agent or a trade for an expensive piece, my move would be to go to Paul Beeston and to Rogers ownership and guarantee that by the end of the winter “We will have a playoff team.” Anthopoulos can no longer be careful and worry about his own position. In his fourth season, given the support he has received from fans and the media, he needs to produce and if risking that his personal guarantee to ownership will fail, he still has to take the chance.
Q. Hey Richard,
I want to ask what your thoughts were on the situation that Omar Vizquel got himself into last week. Disregarding the fact that the man has had a Hall of Fame worthy career, I question his decision to go public with his discontent with the Jays clubhouse with a week to go in the season. It seems as if it’s a whole lot easier to dump on the Jays this season with everything that has gone wrong. As someone who was brought in as a veteran presence to help mentor the younger players on this team, it seems hypocritical for him to then criticize a ‘lack of veteran leadership’ without having to look in the mirror himself. This is also a guy who also said that the phrase that Yunel Escobar had under his eye blacks wasn’t a big deal. While it’s entirely possible or perhaps likely that there are communication issues with the Jays coaching staff, it seems as if his comments should’ve been made behind close doors without throwing the manager under the bus. It seems like Omar is more concerned with positioning himself for a coaching gig next year than setting an example for the young players on the team.
Dan McKinnon, Toronto
A. That’s a very solid observation and I agree. Vizquel, at 45, is more of a contemporary of the coaching staff rather than the players in the clubhouse. It seemed he put himself on a singular level that was neither rank-and-file with the other players, or as a mentor and shadow coach. He had his own agenda that was all about securing his place in history and positioning himself to manager in 2013. There certainly had to be opportunities for him to go to the coaches in August or September if had observations about discipline or execution of fundamentals.
There are three things the Blue Jays need next year. Starting pitching, starting pitching and starting pitching. According to Buck Martinez, the starters for the Jays have 47 wins. Teams that are in the playoffs, average about 70 wins. They won’t get Greinke who has already declined a trade here. They already had Edwin Jackson but moved him. The starters in the minors are just prospects so you had better know that to get what you want you will have to give up positional players. I personally believe that no one is untouchable including Bautista and Encarnacion. I believe the only way to go is the trade route. Any ideas as to who looks good to you???
Dave Mulholland, Scarborough
A. Faith Hill in the opening of Sunday Night Football.
Q. Dear Richard,
I just read your Sept 18 column on homophobia in baseball and I have to say one thing: you really get it! Connecting the homophobic/transphobic nature of rookie hazing to locker room culture is really important. Thank you so much for your voice! I await the day that a representative from GLAAD throws out the first pitch at a Blue Jay game. I also await the day when a woman plays major league baseball!
Ann Travers, Vancouver
A. Thanks. It remains an important issue for pro sports, not just baseball.
THIS WEEK IN BASEBALL HISTORY:
10/9/10 How much was Ty Cobb despised by his contemporaries? In a doubleheader on the final day of the season, the Indians’ Nap Lajoie was in a heated batting race with Cobb. Lajoie racked up eight hits, including six bunt singles to Browns’ 3B Red Corriden who was playing back and couldn’t make the plays. Cobb won the title anyway by a point . . . 10/9/28 Babe Ruth slams three homers in a WS game for the second time in his career, this against the Cards . . . 10/9/57 With Warren Spahn injured, RH Lew Burdette started for the Braves on two days rest and clinched the WS with a 5-0 win over the Yankees . . . 10/9/96 Young Jeffrey Maier reaches over fence to grab a Derek Jeter blast that tied the game. Bernie Williams’ homer won G1 of the ALCS vs. the O’s in 11 innings . . . 10/10/24 The Senators clinched their only WS title with a 12-inning win over the Giants on a chopper over 3B Fred Lindstrom’s head . . . 10/10/68 LH Mickey Lolich beats RH Bob Gibson in G7 to give the Tigers the championship after being down 3-1 in the series. It was Lolich’s third win . . . 10/10/90 Red Sox ace Roger Clemens is ejected in the second inning by Terry Cooney for arguing balls and strikes as Dave Stewart pitches the A’s to a series sweep and their third straight trip to the World Series . . . 10/11/78 In a classic WS staredown, young Dodgers RH Bob Welch strikes out the Yankees Reggie Jackson as the tying run in the ninth inning to save a game for Burt Hooton . . . 10/11/81 Expos’ RH Steve Rogers tosses a 6-hitter in a G5 matchup with LH Steve Carlton as the Expos advance to the NLCS vs. the Dodgers. Rogers is reluctant to go to the post-game press conference because he knows he will be questioned about not being a big-game pitcher. He finally goes when his PR man advises him that when the question is asked stare him down and say “Next question!” It’s exactly what happened . . . 10/12/69 Jays’ physician Dr. Ron Taylor saves a 2-1 win for the Mets’ Jerry Koosman to even the series at a game apiece. Of course, he wasn’t a doctor yet . . . 10/12/82 Brewers’ star Paul Molitor raps out a record-tying five hits in a 10-0 win over the Cardsin G1 . . . 10/12/85 Jays’ PH Al Oliver slams a two-run double in the ninth for a 3-1 lead in the ALCS. Unfortunately that was the year the Championship Series went to seven games and the Royals swept the next three to go to the WS. D-ohh! . . . 10/12/93 Dave Stewart and the Jays beat the White Sox to advance to the WS for the second straight year . . . 10/13/03 That’s 1903. The Boston Pilgrims beat the Pirates for the first World Series title . . . 10/13/60 Bill Mazeroski hits his iconic series-ending home run off Yankees RH Ralph Terry to walkoff in G7.
ONE FOR THE ROAD: It’s the baseball post-season, one of the most hectic times of the year during which to cover sports, in terms of overall travel and drama. The disclaimer here is that in my 40 seasons in the game, both working for a team from 1973-95, and covering a team as a columnist, from 1995-2012, in those 40 seasons, teams I have been associated with have gone to the post-season one time — the ’81 Expos. Yes, that is correct, one time. That being said, it is still my second favourite time of the baseball season, the favourite being spring training with all the romantic blather about the end of winter, a fresh beginning, everyone tied for first place, hope springing eternal and all that other crap.
In any case, after the Jays’ season came to a merciful end on Wednesday, I rented a car from Budget and hit the road, first to Detroit for Games 1-2 vs. the A’s and now down to Cincinnati to watch Joey Votto and friends against the Giants. It’s not been a great post-season for Bay Area teams.
Note to the Star’s travel editor, Jim Byers. Here’s simple directions for fans who may want to go to Lakeland, Fla., for Tigers spring training, starting the trip at the U.S. end of the Windsor tunnel.
Pay attention, now: “Proceed on Jefferson St. to Hwy 10 N. Take the Ramp onto I-75 South. Proceed about 1,000 miles. Turn left off of I-75 onto I-4. Drive 20 miles to Lakeland exit.” That’s right, I-75 runs from Sault St. Marie, Michigan to Naples, Florida. Tough to get lost.
I like Motown. It’s walkable from the Courtyard hotel near the Renaissance to Comerica Park, straight up Brush past Ford Field, turn left to the press gate. On the walk back, there’s always the siren’s call of $2 draft beer at the Greektown Casino for anyone that can prove they’ve been at the baseball game. On Sunday, I was lured onto the rocks with a chance to watch the end of some pretty good NFL games, while playing a little video blackjack. Then it was off to Fishbones for dinner, a little Jambalaya and a bowl of gumbo, then for a nightcap to The Detroiter a couple of blocks north of Greektown back towards the hotel. Talked to three young Canadian baseball fans who came down for a post-season fix. No Blue Jays paraphernalia. Maybe next year. Ya gotta believe.
On Monday it was a four-hour drive down the aforementioned I-75 right to the Reds bandbox of a ballpark for workout day, highlighted by the musings of the great Dusty Baker. The classy Reds manager had been felled by an irregular heartbeat and a mini-stroke in Chicago and missed some time away from the team. Dusty said on Monday that he has a renewed view on appreciation of life:
“I’ve been feeling that it’s been a special year from the time we got to spring training. As far as appreciating where we are and what’s going on here, I’ve always had that appreciation, more of an appreciation outside of the game and outside of baseball. My family, just a lot of stuff.
“Like when you watch the geese fly over. I see them coming off that river now; I notice every time they come off the river. That kind of stuff. Or the half moon the other night. A lot of times you just take for granted it’s a full moon or half moon. Now all of the sudden you start seeing the moon.
“I also think about my father a lot that would have been out in San Francisco at every game. These things I think about as far as playing for, as far as winning for some of the people that are responsible for me being here.”
Dusty’s great. Also, great is the view I have from my window at the Courtyard, Covington. Let’s see, there’s a White Castle that’s open 24 hours (except when it’s closed), a McDonald’s, a Burger King, a Waffle House and a SkyLine Chili, the breakfast of champions. On Monday night after the four-hour drive from Detroit and first trying to check into the wrong Marriott hotel, I went to a place called Sidebar for dinner. Ordered a pound of boneless chicken wings, which from the taste of them hadn’t been part of a chicken for months, if ever. Then got caught up in a discussion with a young patron about the sketchy quality of U.S. presidential candidates and the constitutional right to carry semi-automatic weapons that can fire off 100 rounds in a few seconds. When it was suggested the writers of the constitution were suggesting a blunderbuss rather than a machine pistol, the response was: “You can kill a dozen people with one shot from a blunderbuss.” Can’t argue with that logic. Will be driving home after this series ends (maybe) then figuring out what next from there.