Say this for the Diamondbacks: they simply don’t give up in their blatant attempts to stoke the fires of their so-called “rivalry” with the Dodgers — a rivalry that if it does actually exist benefits them far more at the box office than it does the Dodgers because, let’s face it, the Diamondbacks need all the help they can get at the box office.
The latest poke at the Dodgers came from Diamondbacks manager and long-ago Dodgers World Series hero Kirk Gibson, who in an interview with azcentral.com (that’s the web site for the Arizona Republic) earlier this week referred to the Dodgers as “the other team” in an apparent refusal to even say their name and ripped them for not sending anyone on this week’s goodwill trip to Sydney.
Only one small problem with that: the Dodgers DID send someone to Sydney. Catcher A.J. Ellis was there as part of what was essentially an advance publicity tour to promote the season-opening, two-game series between the two clubs next March, and Ellis could be seen in several promotional photos with Diamondbacks pitcher Patrick Corbin, along with a small group of team executives — apparently, the so-called Dodgers-Diamondbacks rivalry doesn’t extend to Ellis and Corbin, who appeared in the photos to be getting along swimmingly. So Gibson either doesn’t know what he is talking about or doesn’t care.
Gibson says in the same quote that the Diamondbacks are “committed to doing the right thing,” and asks rhetorically of the team that shall not be named, “Are they too (expletive) good (for the goodwill trip to Sydney)? Honestly?”
Look, we get it. The Diamondbacks need something, ANYTHING, to get their fan base fired up. As a Phoenix resident, I have always gotten a strong sense that they are the third-most popular Major League Baseball team in their own city, behind the Cubs and the Dodgers. They have trouble getting people to come to their home games. And so they look for things to drum up. The Diamondbacks need a straw man, and right now, the Dodgers are the most convenient one. If the Diamondbacks need to give their fans something to hate in order to gain their love, fine.
But Gibson — who from his playing days to now has never been shy about letting reporters know when he isn’t happy with something they ask or something they write — needs to learn to get his facts straight before he makes inflammatory statements like this. When this week’s goodwill trip to Sydney was going on, you didn’t have to look very hard to see publicity photos of Ellis and Corbin. They were all over both teams’ Twitter timelines.
For several years now, I have kept an idea tucked away on a back shelf of my brain that I would one day start my own editing/proofreading business — not so much as a primary source of income, but just as a side thing. So I have decided that since I already have a company in place that I set up when I started this blog, and because being the owner/operator of this blog gives me access to free advertising, I would like to officially offer this service to anyone who might be interested.
By now, most of you know my qualificiations: more than two decades as a professional journalist, which necessarily means excellent spelling-and-grammar knowledge and a deeply ingrained, second-nature knowledge of the AP Stylebook; I’m a pretty good writer, or so I have been told; and I am a superb, detail-oriented editor who takes note of EVERY word or phrase and pays close attention to content and consistency. This is a service I have often provided free of charge to friends, acquaintances, etc., over the years — when people know you write for a living, they generally aren’t shy about asking you to proofread their work.
Well, I don’t want you to be shy about it, either. So if you are (or you know) a college student with a term-paper deadline coming up, if you have an article you want to submit for publication either in print or on the web or even if you have a book you’re trying to self-publish — any type of writing project you want professionally edited — I would love to be your go-to guy. I have reasonable (and possibly even negotiable) rates, and I’m in the process of getting PayPal set up. Oh, and for the procrastinators out there, I can also do rush jobs for a nominal up-charge.
So if you’re in need of this service, the first step is for you to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, tell me your name, what type of project you need edited and how I can get in touch with you, and we’ll go from there. And thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I can offer this service to you no matter where you are.
Twice in the past three days, a large number of Dodgers fans have gotten various stages of angry — the range was from mildly annoyed to utterly apoplectic — at a BBWAA postseason award voter whose ballot didn’t make any difference whatsoever in the outcome but which didn’t give what those fans felt was the proper recognition to, first, the Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig for National League Rookie of the Year, and then, yesterday, the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw for the N.L. Cy Young Award. Puig didn’t win the ROY, nor would he have if John Maffei of U-T San Diego (that is what used to be called the San Diego Union-Tribune) hadn’t left him off his ballot entirely. Kershaw DID win the Cy Young going away. He got 29 of 30 first-place votes. So in real terms, it didn’t matter that Mark Schmetzer of the Cincinnati chapter of the BBWAA, who is officially listed in the balloting as a reporter for Reds Report (which he is) but whose primary job there is as an Associated Press correspondent, had Kershaw SECOND on his ballot, behind St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright.
So why were Dodgers fans so upset about this? Does it really matter whether Kershaw was a unanimous winner or not? He either won the Cy Young or he didn’t, and he did.
Anyway, some insight:
Each year, for each of these awards, the BBWAA selects two members from each city to vote. With the two leagues now split evenly at 15 teams apiece, that means there are 30 voters for each award — two from each of the 15 A.L. cities for A.L. MVP, two from each of the 15 N.L. cities for the N.L. Cy Young, and so on and so forth. … Because there are four of these awards (Rookie of the Year, Manager of the Year, Cy Young and Most Valuable Player), that means the BBWAA needs to find a total of eight voters associated with each MLB team (although there is occasionally some doubling up — I remember voting for both Manager of the Year and Cy Young in 2003).
Back in the good old days, these ballots were limited to traveling beat reporters — people who saw the teams they covered play on an almost-everyday basis throughout the season — and, as a backup pool for when they ran out of beat reporters, columnists who saw the team often. But with the decline of the newspaper industry in general — some papers that used to travel with the teams they covered no longer have the resources to do so, and some papers have simply gone belly-up — the pool of available voters has begun to dry up somewhat. Add to that the fact that some papers — the Los Angeles Times, for example — no longer allow their reporters to take part in award voting due to concerns on the part of upper management that it raises some kind of ethical issue — and then throw in the BBWAA’s own ridiculous refusal to allow reporters from MLB.com, most of whom DO travel with the teams they cover on a semi-regular basis, to be active members eligible to vote on these awards, and that pool of available voters is almost a dry creek bed.
Now, consider the case of Schmetzer, who is a friend of mine dating to my Cincinnati days. I mentioned this on Twitter yesterday, and among the responses I got back were that Schmetz, as we affectionately call him, is ignorant, a joke, an idiot and “King Dipshit.” All from people who know absolutely nothing about him, of course, except that he didn’t have Kershaw at the top of his Cy Young ballot, thus preventing Kershaw from being a unanimous winner. I can tell you two things with some certainty: Mark Schmetzer is none of those things — he is a great guy who works hard and almost never misses a Reds home game; and even if Kershaw had gotten all 30 first-place votes, they don’t give out any extra awards for that.
Notice, though, that I said Schmetzer almost never misses a Reds HOME game. Schmetzer doesn’t follow the team on the road, and as I peruse the list of N.L. Cy voters, I see that less than ONE-THIRD of them are traveling beat reporters who cover a team on a daily basis. I saw at least one guy voting from the Atlanta chapter who lives in New York. And one voter writes for Bleacher Report, of all things.
This is what I’m talking about when I talk about what has happened to the voter pool. Because Schmetzer doesn’t work for an outlet that sends him on the road with the Reds, he didn’t see as much of Kershaw, whose team comes through Cincinnati once a year, as he saw of Wainwright, whose team comes through three times. Now granted, Kershaw’s one start in Cincinnati this year was pretty good (seven innings, two earned runs, four hits). And granted also, Wainwright made only two starts at Great American Ball Park this year, and one of those was bad (six innings, six runs). So the simple rationale that this voter SAW more of Wainwright than he did of Kershaw doesn’t really hold up, I don’t think.
Consider this, though: the Reds were involved all summer in a three-way race in the N.L. Central with the Cardinals and Pirates, so Wainwright’s exploits would have been much more in the forefront of what this particular voter was following on a daily basis — and that has a way of seeping into a voter’s subconscious. Had Schmetzer been a traveling beat reporter, he also would have seen Kershaw dominate the Reds on July 26 at Dodger Stadium (eight innings, one run). And, he would have seen the Reds absolutely SMOKE Wainwright for nine runs over two innings on Aug. 28 at Busch Stadium. Perhaps then, Schmetzer’s ballot would have been different and Kershaw would have been a unanimous winner.
The voting for these awards is the same now that it always has been. The only thing that has changed is the available pool of voters. And I’m not being critical of the people who are in that pool. It isn’t their fault their outlets don’t have the money to send them on the road. But there was a time, and it wasn’t that long ago — it was still going on when I began covering ball in 1995 — when there were about eight papers that traveled with the Dodgers. That’s eight postseason award voters right there, without having to even dip into the columnist pool. Today, not counting this blog, there are TWO media outlets (the Times and the Orange County Register) that go on EVERY trip, and the Times guys aren’t allowed to vote. There is a third, MLB.com, that goes on MOST of the trips, and none of their people are allowed to vote because the BBWAA, for whatever reason, won’t let them. And unless it’s the playoffs or the heat of a September pennant chase, there are NO other traveling media outlets covering the Dodgers. So do the math. It’s just hard to come up with eight guys from that, and this is one of the largest media markets in the N.L. So just imagine how difficult it is to find eight qualified voters in St. Louis, Milwaukee and, yes, Cincinnati.
In light of all that, we shouldn’t be surprised if someone gets it wrong once in a while. Check that. No one ever gets it WRONG. These things are always in the eye of the beholder, which is why they try to get such a wide swath of voters in the first place. So there is no right or wrong. There are only ballots with which you may agree or disagree. And to cast a ballot with which you disagree does not make someone a joke, an idiot or King Dipshit. It merely means they saw things differently from the way you saw things.
At the end of the day yesterday, Kershaw was the N.L. Cy Young winner for the second time in the past three years. That one ballot kept him from winning it unanimously was irrelevant, insignificant and immaterial. And by the time Kershaw is actually handed that award at the New York BBWAA chapter’s annual awards dinner next month, it probably won’t even be remembered.
Before anyone cynically suggests Yasiel Puig didn’t win the National League’s Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year award because his brashness, swagger and perceived uncoachability poisoned the minds of the 30 writers from the 15 N.L. cities who were chosen to vote on this award, let me just say this: The ballots were due BEFORE the start of the playoffs, and while Puig’s comportment issues were well known in Los Angeles almost from the moment he arrived in the majors on June 3, they didn’t really become a national story until the playoffs, when they showed up on the big stage in a big way.
Rather, the reasons Puig lost out to Miami’s Jose Fernandez were all the right ones, and they had everything to do with baseball. Look, Fernandez deserved this thing, hands down. He had only four starts all year that weren’t “quality starts,” and he had only one start that was bad — and that was way back in April. And, he was in the majors all year, whereas Puig spent only two-thirds of the season in the majors, and really, he spent only half the season being the greatest player in the history of mankind. He hit just .214 — albeit with six home runs — in September, striking out once every 4.5 plate appearances.
That, as much as anything, is what decided this.
Now, I want to examine some of Puig’s, umm, issues.
At some point, the Dodgers are going to have to do something. From the outside looking in, it almost seems like management is afraid to deal with him harshly or to reign him in, afraid that if they offend him or hurt his feelings, he’ll stop giving maximum effort. Don Mattingly said many times during the season that there was a fine line between asking a player to display proper fundamentals and robbing that player of his enthusiasm, aggressiveness and love for the game — and Puig clearly loves the game.
Ultimately, though, the goal here is to win. And when you have a player who routinely overthrows the cutoff man and occasionally even overthrows the guy the cutoff man is supposed to be throwing to — you know, like, the catcher — that is a detriment to winning. And when other fielders who play in his vicinity have to be tentative when chasing fly balls or pop-ups whenever Puig is anywhere near out of fear he may not back off when he is called off, that is a detriment to winning. The reason the Dodgers are paying Puig $42 million over seven years is because they believe he is talented enough to help them win. You don’t protect that investment by tiptoeing around it. You protect that investment by doing everything you can to ensure that the player does what you are paying him to do.
In fairness to Puig, there is no denying he is a fun player to watch. He brings a refreshing enthusiasm to the field that too many players in today’s corporatized game simply lack. And when he makes one of those notorious throws over the heads of everybody, those throws are still awe-inspiring to anyone watching who doesn’t have a vested interest in Puig hitting the cutoff man. The guy has a cannon arm and a powerful bat, and he doesn’t appear to be intimidated by anything or anyone, and those are beautiful things.
Of all of Puig’s transgressions this year, the ultimate, in my opinion, came in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the N.L. Championship Series. The Dodgers had a comfortable lead, but not an unblowable lead against a team like St. Louis. And when Matt Holliday led off with a pop fly to shallow right and Puig dropped it, possibly losing it in the late-afternoon sun, Puig reacted by walking to the ball rather than running after it.
By the time that happened, alas, the ROY ballots had long since been turned in.
Already in that game, Puig had raised the ire of the umpires by standing at home plate for several seconds after being called out on strikes, an antic that led to a well-chronicled, on-field meeting (warning?) before Game 6 between Joe Torre, who oversees the umpires, and Dodgers president Stan Kasten. I got a buddy who suggested to me the day after Game 6 that might have been the reason Clayton Kershaw appeared to be getting squeezed in the early innings. I’m not buying that, not for a second. Umpires can be vindictive at times, especially this generation of umpires, but they aren’t so vindictive that they are going to consciously affect the outcome of such a huge game and alter the course of baseball history.
Still, the last thing in the world the Dodgers can afford is for Puig to walk around with a target on his back (see Milton Bradley), because that situation can turn toxic really quickly. Most umpires, most of the time, are very professional. But just as we in the media sometimes allow our personal feelings toward a player to subconsciously seep into our reportage, umpires are human, and humans have emotions, and human emotions sometimes manifest themselves in certain ways. And when you have a player like Puig who clearly loves attention, you have to be at least a little wary of him sometimes drawing the wrong kind of attention.
It’s like my old junior-high principal (God rest his soul) told us at orientation on the first day of the seventh grade: “It’s better for you if I don’t know your name, because if I know your name, it means you have spent way too much time in my office.” Obviously this is a different situation, and the umpires DO know the players’ names, all of them. But my point is, the best thing a player can do in the eyes of the umpires is to just blend into the crowd of players.
And if there is one thing we have learned about Puig, it’s that he doesn’t blend into crowds very well. Nor does he want to.
It’s that time of year again. You know, when there is some set or another of postseason baseball awards given out pretty much EVERY DAY. Yesterday, it was something called the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year awards. Wilson is a maker of athletic equipment, including gloves, so the company has an award for defensive play. Best I can figure, the way this differs from the Gold Glove awards, which went out last week and are the traditional defensive awards that people actually care about, is that the Wilson award goes to the best defensive player on each team, regardless of position. And for the Dodgers, it went to third baseman Juan Uribe, and very deservedly so. Uribe is one of those guys you have to see on a regular basis to appreciate just how good he is defensively. He isn’t the type of third baseman who is going to show up on Web Gems very often because he isn’t the type of third baseman who is diving and lunging and flopping all over the place. But this guy can pick it. He has amazing reaction time, and it is impossible to know how many runs he saved for Dodgers pitchers this year and all three of his seasons with the club, even though during the first two of those seasons, Dodgers fans pretty much hated him, partly because he was an ex-Giant but mostly because he hit a combined .199 over those two seasons.
This year, of course, Uribe became a fan favorite, mostly because he hit 12 home runs — twice his total for his first TWO seasons in Los Angeles — just in time to become a free agent, which he still is, so it remains to be seen whether he has or hasn’t played his final game in a Dodgers uniform. If you listened to the podcast Phil Stone and I recorded yesterday, you know my thoughts on this. If you didn’t, I’ll repeat them here: given Uribe’s recent penchant for turning in his best seasons when he is in the final year of a contract (he hit 24 homers and drove in 85 runs for the Giants in 2010, just before the Dodgers signed him to a three-year, $21 million deal), the Dodgers should offer him no more than a one-year deal. Just my opinion.
The real awards, the ones voted on by members of the Baseball Writers Association (MVP, Cy Young, Manager of the Year and Rookie of the Year) go out next week.
By the way, I went to an Arizona Fall League game last night just to see how the new replay-review system was going. This was the second day of testing the system in the AFL, which is limited to NIGHT games — of which there is never more than one per day — through Tuesday. As luck would have it, there were NO requests for reviews from either team in this game. I’m told there were SEVEN such plays the night before, the first night the system was tried.
Sorry, but I’m not a fan of this whole concept. I can’t imagine how much time is going to be wasted while umpires review replays and consult with somebody back in New York who is watching TV monitors of every game. And is this going to eliminate arguments between managers and umpires? Fans love a good manager-umpire argument, especially if it involves dirt-kicking, hat-tossing or base-throwing.
Finally, this is pure speculation on my part, so to be clear, I HAVEN’T HEARD THIS FROM ANYBODY, but during a lunch with a handful of colleagues yesterday, somebody started talking about former Cubs manager Mike Quade (pronounced KWAH-dee) and how he hasn’t been able to get a job, ANY job, in the game since being fired by the Cubs after the 2011 season. Well, this got me to thinking … if, as I keep reading, Dodgers third-base coach Tim Wallach is about to be moved into the vacant bench coach’s position now that he wasn’t hired as manager in either Detroit or Seattle, the team is going to need a new third-base coach. Quade, as someone with Cubs ties, could be a candidate given general manager Ned Colletti‘s apparent penchant for hiring people (and signing/trading for players) with Cubs or Giants ties, the two organizations for which Colletti worked before coming to the Dodgers eight years ago. And before he became the Cubs manager, Quade was the Cubs third-base coach.
Not saying any of this will happen, mind you. But if it does, just remember I was the first one to speculate that it might. This is what we in the journalism biz like to call “throwing stuff against the wall and seeing what sticks.” Hey, at least I’m admitting it.
Some say it solves a lot of problems, many think it causes them, and even more still believe it’s the root of all that is evil. Meanwhile, everyone I know including myself tries like hell every day to earn enough to live, take care of our families and maybe occasionally have enough to do fun things, like go to a ballgame.
If there is something everyone is good at, however, it’s spending it. More specifically, spending other people’s cash, and even more specifically, the money owned by rich people. After all, wealthy people need help spending their dough. They certainly didn’t amass their fortunes by unloading it, so clearly, they haven’t mastered the fine art of reaching into their pockets for their wallets the way we common folk have.
In fact, as sports fans, we have broken it down to a science. Most of us probably believe we could teach a college course on spending billionaire bucks. We have good training, as well, on-the-job training in fact. It is called “fantasy sports ownership.” That’s right, we have deluded ourselves into thinking we not only know how to properly spend hundreds of millions of dollars, but that we also know how to combine the right talent of both star and role-playing athletes with the right mix of younger players and older veterans capable of becoming a dynasty. Royals, Rays and A’s fans don’t have it as good as we Dodgers fans do. When it comes to the Dodgers, Guggenheim’s money is like the bell to Pavlov’s Dog. We’re the dog, of course, and during the Hot Stove league, we salivate all over everything.
The Dodgers have needs (albeit some of their “needs” would be luxuries to most other teams). They also have money and a few good prospects. So in the spirit of every man’s God-given right to spend extravagant amounts of other people’s money and perform Yoda-like Jedi mind tricks on any current MLB general manager to fleece them for a pittance, I ask you, how would you solve the Dodgers’ “problems?”
We’d love to see your comments. Be creative. It can be based on a rumor you have heard or a rumor you would like to hear. It can be a realistic thought that you think might actually happen. We want to hear what you have to say, and we want you to explain your thinking about the moves you would make during this Dodgers offseason. We will read them all, and we will comment, as well. Remember, as always, keep it clean, be nice to your fellow posters and have fun with it!
Happy day after Halloween, everyone! I didn’t have a lot of trick-or-treaters at my house last night — and by not a lot, I mean zero. That means I have all this candy to eat over the next few weeks. Like a lot of Americans (and, one would suppose, Swiss and Belgians), I happen to prefer my chocolate chilled in the refrigerator, which is why you will notice in the photo that the candy is next to the eggs.
Got a great email from Gabriel Palomino, a loyal dodgerscribe.com reader, who has been using Pitch F/X to compile spreadsheets on how many pitches umpires miss and which team those missed calls favor. If you click here, you can see a chart he compiled from the National League Championship Series showing that those calls definitely favored the Cardinals in every game of that series except Game 1. Favored them slightly on a per-game basis, but favored them dramatically over the course of the entire series, with a net 15-pitch advantage for the Cardinals on missed calls by home-plate umpires, according to data Gabriel compiled using Pitch F/X. And keep in mind, in a six-game series, you get six different home-plate umpires.
A second notable oddsmaker, Bovada, has identified the Dodgers as favorites (7/1 odds) to win the 2014 World Series, putting them slightly ahead of the Detroit Tigers (9/1). All these oddsmakers must know something the rest of us don’t. Things like who is going to play third base next year. And whether the Dodgers are going to lose anything close to the more than 1,100 man days they lost to the disabled list this year.
Finally, the Dodgers have an N.L.-leading 16 nominees for something called the GIBBY awards. No, it has nothing to do with Kirk Gibson or Bob Gibson or even Debbie Gibson. It stands for Greatness in Baseball, and I have to say there are so many baseball player awards these days that the whole mess of them has been horribly watered down, IMHO, so wake me up when they announce the Most Valuable Player, Cy Young Award winner and Rookies of the Year. But if, unlike me, you’re interested in the GIBBYs, well, the great Ken Gurnick has a story on them here, so knock yourself out.
That is a line from a sappy baseball poem written by the late Bart Giamatti, way before his brief stint as commissioner and probably even before he was National League president, I don’t know. But at any rate, it’s apropos this morning because baseball season officially ended last night. There will be no Game 7, thanks largely to the fact the St. Louis Cardinals apparently forgot to pack their bats when they left for Boston.
Although he doesn’t get the attention of some of his teammates like David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia and Shane Victorino, the guy I choose to focus on today from the 2013 World Series champion Boston Red Sox is catcher David Ross. The reason is that he was twice drafted by the Dodgers, once out of high school and later as a college junior, when he actually signed, and there was a time when he was viewed as the team’s catcher of the future, the heir apparent to Paul Lo Duca, although Russell Martin already was working his way up the Dodgers minor league ladder at that point.
But the day that sticks out in my mind was one of Ross’ last as a member of the Dodgers. It was spring training 2005, in Vero Beach, and in ’04, he had had a disappointing first full season in the majors offensively. He batted just .171, with a strikeout every 3.1 plate appearances, even though he had finished the year as the main guy after Lo Duca was traded to the Marlins at the deadline. And now, in spring training, Ross was having an even harder time, and honestly, it looked for all the world like he was done. Like he was a washout at 28. Like he didn’t have the first clue what to do when standing at home plate with a bat in his hand. It was obvious that he was wondering the same thing. Ross had always been a media-friendly guy, but suddenly, he had turned surly. And you could kind of tell that he was embarrassed at times by the fact that overnight, he just had stopped seeming capable of hitting at that level anymore.
This was the off-day — back in those days, teams got just one off-day in spring training, whereas now they get two — but somebody, I want to say it was Kazuhisa Ishii, was throwing a simulated game at Holman Stadium to stay on his normal rotation. Ross, who needed all the practice he could get as he tried to salvage his career, was one of the guys there to hit off him. May have been the only guy, far as I can remember.
But there were a handful of people in the stands that day, some fans who had wandered in — if you were ever at Dodgertown, you know how casual everything was there — and some team officials. Jim Tracy, the Dodgers manager at the time, was sitting on a folding chair over by the backstop, near the first-base dugout. Tommy Lasorda was in about the third row of the stands.
There was one point in the game when Ross made really solid contact with a ball. It wasn’t a home run or anything, but it was a hard hit up the middle, as I recall. At this point, Ross walked out of the batter’s box, and Lasorda walked down to the field. The conversation, as most conversations involving Lasorda are, was loud enough that anyone within about a hundred-foot radius could hear it, especially on a day when there weren’t many people around.
“See what happens when you get behind the ball?”
Alas, that was about the closest Ross would come that spring to regaining his stroke. On March 20, the front office, realizing Ross no longer was a viable option as the team’s everyday catcher, acquired the immortal Jason Phillips from the New York Mets for Ishii. Ten days later, Ross was shipped to Pittsburgh for a small amount of cash, the Pirates willing to take a flier on him as long as they didn’t have to give up a player to do it.
Ross would split that season between the Pirates and San Diego, where he went in an insignificant trading-deadline deal, and he would hit .240 — not great, but 70 points higher than he had hit for the Dodgers the year before. From there, he went on to have a nice career for himself, one that is still going strong after 11 seasons. And last night, for the first time in that career, Ross became a world champion. More than eight years after it looked like he was going to have to find some other way to make a living.
Kind of a nice story, I’d have to say.
By the way, the Dodgers already have been installed as the favorites to win the 2014 World Series. But after you peruse these odds from pregame.com, make sure you read the fine print at the bottom, which explains that these odds aren’t always set based on who they think actually will win and that they can be affected by betting patterns.
Finally,here is a noteDylan Hernandez had in the Los Angeles Times yesterday about Dee Gordon playing the outfield for Licey in the Dominican Winter League, an apparent indication the Dodgers plan to move him there if they end up keeping him at all.
I have to say, though, this smacks of desperation. Look, I like Gordon, and I would love to see him succeed. But in all honesty, he doesn’t appear at this point to be a major league player. Certainly not offensively, and probably not defensively, either. The only tool he brings, really, is his speed, and with apologies to Herb Washington, it’s tough to believe a National League team can afford to give a precious 25-man roster spot to a guy who can’t do much other than pinch run — you know, like the Dodgers did in the playoffs.
Unless Gordon suddenly takes to the outfield like he were Willie Mays or something — remember, he did take some fly balls out there during batting practice late in the season and in the playoffs — it’s tough to imagine him being on the active major league roster next season or even really being a significant part of the Dodgers’ plans going forward.
One other note about the World Series: the Red Sox moved ahead of the Giants into sole possession of fourth place all-time with their eighth title, behind the Yankees (27), Cardinals (11) and A’s (nine). Right behind the Red Sox are the Giants (seven), the Dodgers (six) and the Pirates and Reds (five each). One thing I found interesting — but otherwise completely meaningless — was that in 109 World Series, this was the FIRST ONE that followed this exact sequence of wins and losses by the winning team:
Win Game 1 at home
Lose Game 2 at home
Lose Game 3 on the road
Win Game 4 on the road
Win Game 5 on the road
The Cardinals probably weren’t going to win Game 5 of the World Series tonight regardless. Not with the way Jon Lester was pitching, er, dominating. And if David Ortiz weren’t 11-for-15 in the Series, Lester probably already would have the Most Valuable Player award locked up. But Lester’s performance notwithstanding, as a guy who loves to break a baseball game down to its barest essence, I’m going to tell you the exact moment when the Cardinals lost this game — and then, I’m going to take you even deeper into the world of minutiae to tell you about a strange phenomenon of which I have taken note that might explain why the American League tends to be so dominant over the National League in the World Series (even though the N.L. won the previous three in a row) and in regular-season interleague play.
First, tonight’s pivot point.
It came in that decisive top of the seventh, when the Red Sox scored twice to break a 1-1 tie. Specifically, it was Stephen Drew‘s plate appearance against the Mickey Mouse guy, what’s his name again … oh yeah, Adam Wainwright.
So as Drew steps to the plate with one out and a runner on first, he is 1-for-14 in the Series, with six strikeouts. His only hit, in fact, was that freak single in his first at-bat of Game 1, when he popped one straight up in the air, and it fell to the ground into the one-foot space between Wainwright and catcher Yadier Molina as they both converged on it, then backed off at the same time, each apparently thinking the other would catch it.
This time, Wainwright quickly gets ahead of Drew 1-2. And then, for some odd reason — perhaps it was the fact Drew had taken him to the warning track in his previous at-bat, in the fifth inning — Wainwright decides to nibble. And you know what usually happens when you nibble against a struggling, light-hitting guy after getting ahead of him? You end up walking him, which is exactly what Wainwright did here, throwing three consecutive balls to Drew, the second of which was about a foot outside.
By now, you know the rest — David Ross (remember him, Dodgers fans?) hit a go-ahead double, Jacoby Ellsbury singled in another run later in the inning, and that was all she wrote on a night when the Cardinals offense was pretty much non-existent.
Those three pitches from an obviously tiring Wainwright to Drew were, in my opinion, the three pitches that decided this game. That’s my first point. Now, on to my second, bigger point.
To a large extent, the differences between the two leagues have been blurred over the years, due mostly to interleague play and due somewhat to the frequency with which players change teams and go back and forth from one league to the other. But still, for whatever reason, there seem to be subtle differences in the way players from the two leagues approach the game, ways that go beyond the fact the A.L. uses the designated hitter and the N.L. doesn’t. One way is that A.L. hitters, overall, seem to be much better at working counts, grinding out at-bats and driving the other team’s starting pitcher out of the game early. I watch World Series games with a keener eye than any other games. Part of that is because I am usually writing during Dodgers games, so I miss a lot, especially in the early innings.
But one thing I was sure I was noticing in World Series games, going back over the past couple of decades even, is that N.L. pitchers always seem to struggle to put away A.L. hitters, even after those pitchers get ahead in the count. So tonight, for Game 5, I wanted to put that to the test and see if I was really seeing what I thought I was seeing. So I kept a running tally of a very specific type of pitch: PITCHES THROWN WITH TWO STRIKES ON THE BATTER THAT DIDN’T RESULT IN AN OUT. I’m talking about any pitch that either was a ball to extend the at-bat, was fouled off to extend the at-bat or on which the batter reached base.
Well, guess what, my theory held true. Granted it was one game, a small sample size. But tonight, the Cardinals threw 27 of those pitches. The Red Sox threw 13 of them. That’s a glaring difference. In fact, there were three innings, the first, seventh and ninth, in which the Cardinals threw FIVE of those pitches. The Red Sox didn’t throw more than three of them in any inning.
What this suggests to me is two things I have long suspected: one, that A.L. hitters are simply better than N.L. hitters at battling with two strikes; and two, that N.L. pitchers are way too attached to that old-school belief that if you get ahead of a hitter 0-2 with the first two pitches, you have to waste the third pitch to see if the hitter will chase something out of the zone. Personally, I have always found that kind of silly, especially in this era in which starters are rarely allowed to go beyond 100 pitches. It’s a wasted pitch. I mean, the hitter KNOWS IT’S COMING, so why would he swing at something he is about 90-percent certain is going to be out of the zone? OK, so you’re ahead 0-2, you throw the obligatory waste pitch, the hitter doesn’t bite, now it’s 1-2, and then let’s say you happen to miss with the next pitch. Now, after being 0-2, suddenly it’s 2-2.
Let’s break it down further: Of those 27 two-strike pitches the Cardinals threw tonight, 21 of them were thrown by Wainwright. That’s 21 pitches he threw with two strikes that didn’t produce an out. He threw a total of 107 pitches, so 19.6 percent of Wainwright’s pitches tonight were effectively wasted pitches, or at least unproductive ones. And given the fact he obviously didn’t have much left in his final inning, the seventh, all those wasted pitches proved to be a pretty big factor, IMHO.
Anyway, I hope I didn’t bore you with all this nuance and minutiae. But I am absolutely convinced this is one of those things that still set these two leagues apart, and it seems to have been a big difference so far in a World Series that the Cardinals now are going to need a miracle to win.
In case you missed it, this is video of the Boston Red Sox getting completely hosed in Game 3 of the World Series, a game that was made all the more important by the fact that the two teams had split the first two games at Fenway Park. However, this video, on which you can hear the voices of NBC’s Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek and longtime Reds radio voice Marty Brennaman, isn’t from last night. It’s from Oct. 14, 1975. Because the Red Sox didn’t get hosed last night. More on that below the video.
For those of you not old enough to remember, what ended up happening here as a result of Ed Armbrister NOT getting called for interference with Carlton Fisk fielding his bunt was that the Reds had runners on second and third with nobody out in the 10th inning, and Joe Morgan eventually drove in the winning run with a walkoff single, giving the Reds a 2-1 lead in a Series they went on to win in seven games.
OK, about last night.
Jim Joyce‘s obstruction call on Will Middlebrooks, which allowed Allen Craig to score the winning run and give the St. Louis Cardinals a two-games-to-one-lead, was a tough way for the Red Sox to lose a World Series game. But it was absolutely, positively the right call. Judging by the TV sound bytes I saw from the Red Sox clubhouse after the game and the reaction of Red Sox Nation on Twitter, no one in New England was willing to accept this reality in the first couple of hours after the game, and I’m sure many of those folks still aren’t. But I’m guessing there are a few who have viewed the replay enough now, with their emotions removed from the equation, to see that this clearly was obstruction.
Let me join the chorus of those who hate to see such a big game on such a big stage end in such a bizarre way. You never want to see a World Series game decided on a controversial call by an umpire, or by the umpiring crew. It’s not the way such things should be determined. But the nature of the game is such that, on occasion, this is going to happen, and when it does, you just hope the umpires get that call right. And this time, they did.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’m rooting for the Cardinals in this Series. As I told you before, I ALWAYS root for the National League team in the World Series. The reason for this is that, well, there is no reason, I just do. Always have, since I was a little kid. Can’t explain it to myself, much less to you. It’s the same reason I like peanuts and cashews but hate pecans and walnuts. Or that I like fish, chicken and beef but can’t stand pork. There is no reason for it. It just is.
But the fact I’m rooting for the Cardinals has nothing to do with the fact this call was correct. I knew instantly that the bad call in the first inning of Game 1 that went in the Cardinals’ favor was wrong, and when it was overturned, I was glad they got it right, even though it wound up costing the Cardinals three runs in that inning and they wound up losing a lopsided game.
But I want to address a few of the arguments I heard for why the game shouldn’t have ended this way.
First, here are the two applicable rules, Rule 2.00 and Rule 7.06
OBSTRUCTION is the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner.
Rule 2.00 (Obstruction) Comment: If a fielder is about to receive a thrown ball and if the ball is in flight directly toward and near enough to the fielder so he must occupy his position to receive the ball he may be considered “in the act of fielding a ball.” It is entirely up to the judgment of the umpire as to whether a fielder is in the act of fielding a ball. After a fielder has made an attempt to field a ball and missed, he can no longer be in the “act of fielding” the ball. For example: an infielder dives at a ground ball and the ball passes him and he continues to lie on the ground and delays the progress of the runner, he very likely has obstructed the runner.
When obstruction occurs, the umpire shall call or signal “Obstruction.”
(a) If a play is being made on the obstructed runner, or if the batter-runner is obstructed before he touches first base, the ball is dead and all runners shall advance, without liability to be put out, to the bases they would have reached, in the umpire’s judgment, if there had been no obstruction. The obstructed runner shall be awarded at least one base beyond the base he had last legally touched before the obstruction. Any preceding runners, forced to advance by the award of bases as the penalty for obstruction, shall advance without liability to be put out.
Rule 7.06(a) Comment: When a play is being made on an obstructed runner, the umpire shall signal obstruction in the same manner that he calls “Time,” with both hands overhead. The ball is immediately dead when this signal is given; however, should a thrown ball be in flight before the obstruction is called by the umpire, the runners are to be awarded such bases on wild throws as they would have been awarded had not obstruction occurred. On a play where a runner was trapped between second and third and obstructed by the third baseman going into third base while the throw is in flight from the shortstop, if such throw goes into the dugout the obstructed runner is to be awarded home base. Any other runners on base in this situation would also be awarded two bases from the base they last legally touched before obstruction was called.
Now, one argument against the call that I heard — and dare I say the most ridiculous one — was that yeah, if you go by the letter of the law, it’s the right call, but the umpires shouldn’t let a World Series game end like that. Ummmm, OK, so what should they have done? NOT go by the letter of the law? What is this, Little League, where we want everybody to feel good afterward? No, this is the WORLD SERIES. Look, if Craig doesn’t trip over Middlebrooks, that play at the plate isn’t even close. He scores, game over. Can you imagine, then, the outcry if the umpires HADN’T called interference?
Another argument: Craig was out of the baseline. No, he wasn’t. If you go to this link, you can see umpires Joyce, Dana DeMuth and crew chief John Hirschbeck, along with their supervisor, Joe Torre, in the postgame interview room. If you don’t want to sit through the entire eight-minute video, though, here are the money quotes on the subject of whether Craig was out of the baseline.
Q. I’m just curious, is there any responsibility of the runner to make sure he’s in the baseline? Did you guys check for that? Often a runner comes around third and circles around the third base coach’s box. It seems like Craig was clearly on the inside part of third more toward shortstop. Is it the responsibility of the runner to make sure he’s inside the baseline?
JIM JOYCE: He was right on the baseline. He was right on the chalk. And so that never played into any decision, at all, because he was ‑‑ he had slid, stood up, and he was literally right on the chalk.
JOHN HIRSCHBECK: Don’t forget, the runner establishes his own baseline. If he’s on second on a base hit and rounds third wide, that baseline is from where he is, way outside the line, back to third and to home plate, it’s almost a triangle. So the runner establishes his own baseline.
I heard the argument that Middlebrooks clearly didn’t intend to obstruct Craig. But it doesn’t matter. The rule says nothing about intent. It’s the first statement made by Hirschbeck on the video I linked to above, before the umps even took any questions, when he said, “It does not have to be intent. There does not have to be intent.”
And finally, I heard the argument that the call was correct according to the rule, but it’s a stupid rule. OK, fine, but what are you going to do, change the rule in the middle of Game 3 of the World Series, just because the rule is a bad one? I’m pretty sure they can’t do that.
Now that we have settled that, I also would like to point out that …
If Red Sox manager John Farrell had done the wise thing and intentionally walked Jon Jay to load the bases, thus setting up a double play and a force at every base and bringing up light-hitting Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma, the Red Sox still might have lost, but they wouldn’t have lost this way. In fact, the insanity that ensued when the Cardinals were awarded the winning run probably saved Farrell from a barrage of second-guessing along the lines of what Don Mattingly dealt with in each of the two rounds his Dodgers played in these playoffs, and …
If Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia doesn’t make that questionable throw to third base in the first place, or if he does make the throw and makes it accurately, or if Middlebrooks leaves the bag in an effort to catch the ball and stop it from sailing up the third-base line, the Red Sox still might have lost, but they wouldn’t have lost this way. Either Craig would have been out at third, sending the game to extra innings, or Craig would have been safe at third and the game would have continued with runners on the corners and two outs in the ninth.
Look, the Red Sox may still win this Series. If they win Game 4, it’s a best-of-three, with two of the three at Fenway. But if Boston loses this Series, we may never hear the end of it. Despite the fact the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 and 2007, Red Sox Nation may start whining about that ridiculous Curse of the Bambino again. And the heartache and heartbreak of being a Red Sox fan. And all those New England literary types may start to write 300-page tomes about the bitter disappointment of another promising October that slipped from the grasp of their heroes, just like Mookie Wilson‘s ground ball slipped through the legs of Bill Buckner.
Well, they can bring the Curse out of mothballs if they wish. But whatever happens the rest of the way in what is shaping up to be a classic World Series, the Red Sox didn’t lose Game 3 because of any black magic. They lost because of a freak play, an obscure rule and a correct call by Joyce and the entire crew, whose job it is to know the rule book so thoroughly that even when something this rare comes up, they are able to react to it instinctively and decisively and render a correct call within a split second.
It was a World Series moment that will be debated for years, maybe even decades to come. But in the end, there is no debate. The umpires got it right. The Cardinals won. And the Red Sox, righteously indignant though they and their fans may be, lost, fair and square, according to the rules of baseball.
And they better get over it, because Game 4 is a few hours away.