Archive for August, 2011

Game Six: LCS

August 26, 2011

After a short break, back to game six. This is the final installment of the series.

When baseball went to a playoff system in 1969, the playoff round was a best of five, making it impossible for a game six. That changed in 1985 when the current best of seven format began. It proved immediately successful when Toronto won game four of the 1985 ALCS and took a three games to one lead over Kansas City. In previous years that would have put Toronto into the World Series, but the new format required them to win one more. They couldn’t and the Royals won their only World Series that season.

There have been a few good sixth games in ALCS history, but most of the truly memorable ones occurred in the National League. Ozzie Smith’s home run and the “Bartman” game were both game six. But for sheer drama and length, there’s never been anything quite like game six of the 1986 NLCS.

Kevin Bass in that gaudy Astros uniform

1986

The New York Mets went into game six of the 1986 NLCS up three games to two against the Houston Astros. The game was played on Wednesday afternoon, 15 October, in Houston. The Astros looked like they were going to tie up the series when they jumped on Mets ace Bob Ojeda for three runs in the bottom of the first. With a couple of doubles and a couple of singles, Houston forged ahead. The key play of the game occurred in the first, when Kevin Bass recorded the third out trying to steal home. It ended the scoring for the Astros in the first, and as things turned out one more run would have been critical.

For eight innings the Astros held New York in check. Starter Bob Knepper threw eight shutout innings to bring the game to the top of the ninth and bring Houston within three outs of a game seven. He got one. A triple, a single, and a double gave the Mets two runs and chased Knepper. A sacrifice fly tied the game and Bass’s base running blunder now brought on extra innings.

And it brought on extra inning after extra inning. The game went on for 4 hours and 42 minutes. Not being a particular fan of either team, I was, by the end, beginning to root for it to go 18 so I could get in a strange double-header. I thought the Mets were going to mess it up for me when they scored a run in the 14th, but Billy Hatcher homered in the bottom of the inning to give me another chance at my hoped for double-header.  

The fifteenth was scoreless, then the Mets scored three on a double, two singles, two wild pitches, and a sacrifice fly. Up 7-4 it looked like World Series time for the Mets. Houston decided not to make it easy. On a couple of singles and a walk, the Astros got two runs back, then Kevin Bass came to the plate with two outs. He struck out to end the game, the series, and my shot at a double-header. The Mets went on to win the World Series.

It was more an interesting than exciting game for most of the time. There was the drama extra innings always gives, but for much of the game it looked like the Mets were in trouble. They made it exciting finally in the ninth, then it became a long drama through a 14th inning tie then the finale of the Astros getting within one run to send it to sixteen. The game had some individually good performances. Jesse Orosco picked up the win, his third in the series, Knepper threw eight shutout innings before losing it in the ninth. Ray Knight had two critical RBIs, and Glenn Davis and Billy Hatcher both had three hits for the Astros, one of Hatcher’s being the game’s only home run. Then there was Kevin Bass who went one for six with the out at home and Astros manager Hal Lanier who left Knepper in to start the ninth.

It was a heck of a game, and a heck of a game to end this series on. I still wish I’d gotten that double header out of it. Oh, well.

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“Damn, the Boss is a Girl”

August 24, 2011

Helene Robison Britton

As something of a follow-up to the Roger Bresnahan post, let me take you way back in the 19th Century when the Robison brothers, Stanley and Frank, a couple of  street car company magnates (not a “magnate” type job these days) and owners of the Cleveland baseball club, also bought ownership in the St. Louis club. They managed to destroy the Cleveland team, but St. Louis survived. In 1908, Frank died leaving the team to Stanley. Stanley hung on through the 1910 season. The team wasn’t very good, but he liked the game, he made money, and he thought he could make it a winner. In March 1911 he died. As sad as it might be, for our purposes it is important to note he was unmarried and had no children. In his will he left majority owenership of the team to his brother’s only child, his niece Helene Robison Britton. She thus became the first female owner of a Major League Baseball team. One of the players is supposed to have uttered the deathless line “Damn, the boss is a girl.”

Helene Robison was born in Cleveland in 1879, the child of wealth and privilege. With both her father and uncle baseball men she grew up liking the sport and learned to score the game early. When the Cleveland team folded and her father and uncle began running only the St. Louis team, she maintained an interest and accompanied them to St. Louis to watch her team play. One source says she first proposed changing the team uniforms from Brown to Cardinal Red thus giving the team its current nickname. I can find absolutely no confirmation of that and it probably isn’t true, but it makes a good story.

In 1901 she married Schuyler Britton, a n attorney and printer (strange combination, isn’t it?). They had two children (one of each). In 1911, as mentioned above, she and her mother gained ownership of the Cardinals (with Helene Britton getting the bigger share of the stock). She moved to St. Louis and began running the team. As you might guess there was a lot of opposition to a woman running a  baseball team in 1911. Helene Britton seems to have decided to run the team anyway and after a brief honeymoon had problems with manager Roger Bresnahan and some of the players who didn’t like taking orders from a woman. Fellow owners also didn’t want her in their meetings. It was, after all, a man’s world and a man’s sport. She solved that part of the problem by having her husband elected club president in 1913. That allowed him to attend league meetings while she still ran the team on a daily basis.

Frankly the Cardinals weren’t very good in her years as owner. They finished as high as third in 1914 (a Federal League year), but did not consistently win. She did manage to increase attendance by instituting “Lady’s Day” at the ball park. She also was smart enough to agree to the manager’s suggestion she sign an up and coming slugger named Rogers Hornsby in 1915.

She was having trouble at home, however. In 1916 she separated from her husband and began divorce proceedings in 1917. Claiming he was an alcoholic and abusive, she was successful in her petition. That left her, again, the sole driving force in the Cardinals front office. In fairness to her, Schuyler Britton was always more figurehead than president while she ran the team. Years later Effa and Abe Manley would do much the same thing in the Negro Leagues (although they never divorced).

In 1918 she sold the Cardinals for $350,000, a large sum in 1918 and a great profit on her father’s original $40,000 investment. She remarried, moved to Philadelphia, and died in 1950 mostly forgotten by baseball. Feminism hadn’t yet found her. A biographer finally did this year. Haven’t read it yet but it’s called “Baseball’s First Lady” and is written by Joan Thomas.

It’s really tough to assess Britton’s role in baseball. On the one hand she was way ahead of her time. She may have been a “feminist”, but was more in the Margaret Sanger mold than in the modern “feminist” role. She certainly did run the team despite great resistance from both players and other owners. She showed real intelligence by putting her husband in the president’s chair, thus cutting down on some of the opposition to her. On the other hand, the Cardinals didn’t do very well. Much of that can be laid at the feet of her dad and uncle who weren’t very good at running  a baseball team, but some of it has to rub off on her. The team got better briefly, but only marginally. Frankly, I think baseball is better off for having her, but her on the field impact is much less than her historical impact.

A Dozen Things You Should Know About Roger Bresnahan

August 22, 2011

Roger Bresnahan in gear

1. He was born 11 June 1879 in Toledo, Ohio.

2. Graduating from High School in 1895, he joined the Ohio State League in 1896, both pitching and catching.

3. In 1897 he made it to the National League with the Washington Nationals (not the same club as today) as a pitcher. He threw a six hit shutout in his first game 27 August, went 4-0 in his pitching assignments, hit .375, asked for a raise, and was cut at the end of the season (which should help explain why Washington never won a NL pennant).

4.  He spent 1898 and 1899 in the Minors, resurfaced briefly in the National League in 1900, then jumped to the American  League’s Baltimore Orioles (now the Yankees, not the modern Orioles) where he met John J. McGraw. In 1902 he joined McGraw in jumping to the Giants in the NL.

5. Playing multiple positions, he became the Giants’ full-time catcher in 1905. As a catcher he experimented with a batting helmet, padded masks, and shin guards. The latter two became staples during his own career. There is a lot of question who invented each. Although he is sometimes given credit for inventing each, Bresnahan, as far as I can tell, never claimed to have done so.

6. In the 1905 World Series, catcher Bresnahan led off for the Giants (unusual for a catcher) and led the team with a .313 batting average. The Giants won in five games.

7. In 1906 he led the National League with an OBP of .419, again unusual for a  catcher of any era.

8. In 1908 he caught 139 games during the season. It was both his career high and an astonishing number for the era.

9. In 1909 he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals to be player-manager. During his tenure (1909-1912) he finished as high as fifth once. He got along well with Stanley Robison, Cardinals owner, but Robison died in 1911. He was replaced by his niece Helene Robinson Britton who became the first woman to own a Major League club (and who is certainly worth a post at some point). After an initial period of getting along (I resisted using “honeymoon” here for a reason), they quickly fell out. Part of the problem seems to be that Bresnahan didn’t like working for a girl (See what I mean about “honeymoon”?).

10. In 1913 he was sent to the Chicago Cubs where he was the backup catcher in both 1913 and 1914. In 1915 he was player-manager for the team. He didn’t do well as a manager, but made a lot of money.

11. He used the money to buy the Toledo Mud Hens Minor League team. He owned, managed, and occasionally played for the Mud Hens through the 1923 season.

12. He coached some for the Giants 1925-28, then for the Tigers in 1930 and 1931. Afterwards he held a series of  odd jobs that helped him get by but had nothing to do with baseball. In 1944 he ran for county commissioner. He lost the election and died of a heart attack on 4 December of the same year (I’m not about to speculate on cause/effect of politics and heart attacks at this point.). His death led to a spiking in interest about him and he was elected to the Hall of  Fame in 1945.

Congratulations to Jim Thome

August 16, 2011

By now most of you should know that Minnesota Twins DH Jim Thome slugged two home runs yesterday to become the eighth player with 600 or more home runs. Congratulations from me to him and also to the Twins who had the sense to sign him when a lot of other teams thought he was through. I hope he plays one more year. I’d like to see him slug passed Sammy Sosa for seventh. I have a feeling that Ken Griffey in sixth is too far away.

Congrats, Jim.

Game Six: Back in the Saddle Again

August 15, 2011

It’s tough enough to have a great career, even tougher to have two. Actors really have a problem with it. What do you do after standing on a sound stage and being called “the greatest who ever was” then finding your career over? Well, if you’re Ronald Reagan you go into politics. If you’re Gene Autry you buy a baseball team and try to get it to the World Series. His team managed that in 2002.

Gene Autry, Angels owner

2002 

Back when baseball first expanded in 1961, old-time singing cowboy Gene Autry, with hits like “Back in the Saddle Again” and “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer,” took interest and bought the team in Los Angeles. Over the years the location name changed, but the team nickname remained the Angels. Apparently he was a heck of an owner, loved by both fans and the players. He died before the 2002 World Series, but the mantra for many of the players was “win one for the cowboy.” By game six on 26 October, the Angels were on the verge of losing one for the cowboy. Down three games to two they were back home against the San Francisco Giants. Fourteen game winner Kevin Appier and a batting order that had only two .300 hitters and only two players with 25 or more home runs were tasked with keeping the Angels alive for game seven.

Four innings in neither team had scored, then the Giants exploded for three runs in the fifth, chasing Appier on a two run homer. Reliever Francisco Rodriguez threw a wild pitch bringing home the third run. They picked up another run in the sixth on a Barry Bonds homer. They got one last run in the seventh on two singles and a stolen base. Nine outs from closing out the World Series, San Francisco led 5-0.

With one out (now eight outs to go) Troy Glaus singled. Then with a second runner on, first baseman Scott Spiezio hit a three run shot to cut the Giants lead to 5-3. San Francisco got out of the inning with no more damage, got a lead off walk in the top of the eighth, then three consecutive outs brought the Angels back to bat. Now six outs from wrapping up their first World Series victory since moving to San Francisco in 1958, the Giants faced center fielder Darin Erstad. He homered to cut the lead to 5-4, then two singles and a Bonds error put runners on second and third, bringing up Glaus again. He ripped a double scoring both runners and putting the Angels ahead 6-5. That ended the Angels scoring and the Giants went in order in the ninth. That set up game seven, which the Giants lost 4-1 after taking a 1-0 lead. Glaus was the MVP and the cowboy had won.

The Series may be most famous for the “Rally Monkey” and the thundersticks, but it was, at the time, portrayed as something of a morality play. You had the good guys, they were called the “Angels” for God’s sake, versus the bad guys, reasonably enough called the “Giants” (generally the bad guys in most mythology).  The Angels had tiny David Eckstein, the Giants had big, bad, ugly, evil Barry Bonds with his bloated head and steroid-induced (at least according to some) power. It was easy to root for the Angels and tough to root for San Francisco. In best morality play justice, the good guys won.

This is the final installment of my look at game six of the World Series. I still want to look at a couple of the LCS games of note. Great games aren’t confined to the World Series and I want to feature some of those also.

Game Six: Bunt?

August 12, 2011

The period 1991 through 1993 produced three extraordinary game six dramas. I talked about 1991 in my last post. Most people who follow baseball know about Joe Carter, Mitch Williams, and game six of 1993. I really don’t want to look at three in a row, so I think I’ll skip it to look at the 1992 game six, which was also an interesting game. It ended on, of all things, a bunt.

Cito Gaston

1992

Game six of the 1992 World Series was played in Atlanta on 24 October. The Toronto Blue Jays were ahead of the Braves 3 games to 2. It was the first trip to the World Series by a Canadian team and Cito Gaston was in position to become the first black manager to win a World Series. Steve Avery (who started game six in 1991) gave up a leadoff hit to Devon White who later scored the first run of the game.  Jays pitcher David Cone made it hold up until the third when the Braves got the run back. Candy Maldonado put the Jays back on top with an answering leadoff home run in the top of the fourth. The game settled down to a pitching duel, although the Braves went through pitchers like Tony LaRussa. In the bottom of the ninth, Gaston brought in stopper Tom Henke to close out the Series. Henke had 34 saves during the regular season and two already in the Series. He couldn’t get one more. The Braves bunched together a handful of singles and  sacrifices and tied the game, sending game six into extra innings for the second year in a row.

Toronto managed one hit in the tenth, failed to score, and Atlanta went down in order in the bottom of the inning. In the eleventh the Blue Jays used a hit batsman, a single, and a run scoring double by Hall of Famer Dave Winfield to plate two runs.  The Braves answered with a single, then got help from the Jays on an error by Alfredo Griffiin. After one out, the Braves got a run on a ground out and sent pinch runner John Smoltz to third. That brought up center fielder and lead off man Otis Nixon. Nixon was 33 (and looked 63), had stolen 41 bases during the regular season and five in the Series. He decided to get on base and score the tying run from third with a bunt. He hit it too hard. Pitcher Mike Timlin picked it up and flipped it to first baseman Joe Carter. The Jays had won their first World Series.

A lot of people wondered at ending the Series on a bunt. For a while it even overshadowed the true importance of the game. For the first time the World Series champion played its home games outside the United States. And as importantly, a black man became a winning manager of a World Series team. It may not have been the greatest game six ever, but it was historic.

Game Six: One Man Band

August 10, 2011

Did you ever notice how one player can completely take over a game? Bet you’ve seen it a thousand times with pitchers. Occasionally a hitter can do it too, but it’s not as frequent as with pitchers. The World Series has produced a handful of games in which one player simply steps up and decides “this game is mine and we will not lose.”  Take a look at both Sandy Koufax in game seven of 1965 or Bob Gibson in game seven of 1967. Those are two pitchers that did just that, take over a game and refuse to lose. I’ve got a game six position player who did the same thing.

Puckett hitting the home run in game six, 1991 and the statue of him at the new Twins field

1991

I’ve said before that 1991 is simply the greatest World Series I ever saw. Game six is one reason. It was played 26 October in the Metrodome. The visitors sent Steve Avery in to pitch what could be a close out victory for Atlanta. The home team Twins sent Scott Erickson to the mound. His job was to keep Minnesota alive for Jack Morris and game seven. Fortunately for him and the team, Kirby Puckett was playing center field.

Erickson got through the first inning, then Puckett took over. With one on and one out he laced a triple that scored the first run (keep track with me–1 RBI). Then he scored the second run (1 run) on a Shane Mack hit. So far, Puckett 2, Braves zip.

In the third inning with a runner on first, Ron Gant hit a long fly to deep left center field. Puckett was playing Gant in right center. Puckett dashed across center, raced to the fence, leaped and caught the ball against the fence for out two. The Braves didn’t score. You’ve all seen Willie Mays’ 1954 catch. Some of you remember Ron Swoboda’s 1969 World Series catch. I’ll bet you can name a handful of Ken Griffey or Jim Edmonds or Andruw Jones or Torii Hunter catches in the regular season. Puckett’s catch ranks right at the top with any of them. Remember he’s in right center, he’s got short legs and a jelly donut filled backside (I’m trying not to say he was pudgy), and he caught the damned thing. It was arguably the greatest catch I ever saw and if not, it’s certainly in the top five.

So now we’re Puckett 2, plus a great catch, Braves still zip. Of course that wasn’t going to last. The Braves tied it up in the top of the fifth. Want to guess who was going to bat in the bottom of the fifth? Dan Gladden singled, stole second, and went to third on a bunt. Up came (you guessed it) Kirby Puckett who launched a long sacrifice fly that put the Twins back on top (1 run, 2 RBIs). So now we’re Puckett 3-Braves 2.

The Braves tied the game in the top of the sixth and Puckett wasn’t due up in the bottom, so the game remained tied through the ninth (although Puckett singled in the eighth). Neither team scored in the tenth. In the eleventh the Braves got a man on, had him thrown out stealing, and then went in order, bringing up the bottom of the eleventh and bringing up Puckett one last time. He immediately hit the ball over the fence and ended the game (Puckett 4, Braves-3). The next night the Twins won it all in ten innings.

Here are a couple of lines from the game: Braves-3 runs, 3 RBIs, and 9 hits. Puckett–2 runs, 3 RBI’s, three hits (in four at bats), and a superior catch. Puckett had a hand in all four Twins runs, either scoring or knocking in each. It was a dominating performance. I can’t recall seeing a better one among position players in a World Series game (feel free to nominate your own candidate if you have one). Unlike SportsPhD, I’m not a particular Twins fan, but what a treat to see such a great performance.

A Couple of Posts Worth Reading

August 9, 2011

Just looked at some sites and want to give a shout out to a couple that are on the blogroll at right.

SportsPhD is back. There’s a nice post on Tim Wakefield, a personal favorite of his and of mine (God love knuckleballers).

And Baseballidiot at throwhitcatch.com has an interesting take on sabrmetrics. Don’t agree with all his conclusions (but then he probably wouldn’t agree with all of mine), but the article is certainly worth the read. Check out both.

 

Game Six: Wickets

August 8, 2011

One interesting thing about baseball is that you can track stats over time. For instance, you can make a list of the men who held the single season home run title from 1876 all the way through 2010. Another stat that’s easy to follow is errors. If you track them, you’ll notice that, as a rule, there has been a distinct improvement in fielding through the years. That doesn’t mean there aren’t still errors. Some are infamous. Fred Snodgrass in 1912 made an error that modern baseball fans know about. In 1941 Mickey Owen let a ball get passed him to open up a Yankees rally that won a World Series game. But if I  had to pick one error to put at the top of the infamy list, it occurred in 1986.

1986

Ray Knight scores, game six, 1986

The Red Sox and Mets squared off in game six of the 1986 World Series at Shea Stadium on 25 October. The Red Sox needed one win to grab their first championship since 1918. For the Mets, they needed two wins to secure their second championship ever. Both teams sent aces to the mound: Roger Clemens for Boston and Bob Ojeda for New York. Clemens started off well, Ojeda was shaky, giving up single runs in both the first and second innings. After that he settled down and pitched shutout ball through the sixth inning. Clemens did fine through four, then gave up the tying runs in the fifth on a walk, a single, an error (making one of the runs unearned), and a double play. Boston retook the lead on an unearned run in the seventh, but New York tied it back up on a Gary Carter sacrifice fly in the eighth inning. No one scored in the ninth, so the game went to extra innings.

Boston seemingly won the Series in the top of the tenth with a home run, a double, and  a single to give them a 5-3 lead. But of course the home team gets one last at bat, so down two runs, the Mets came to the plate in the bottom of the tenth. Pitcher Calvin Schraldi (an ex-Mets player) got two quick outs, then gave up three consecutive singles, giving the Mets one run back. Out went Schraldi, in came Bob Stanley, who promptly threw a wild pitch tying the game and sending the potential winning run to second. That brought up left fielder Mookie Wilson, who hit a slow roller to first baseman, and one-time batting champ, Bill Buckner, who let it go between the wickets for an error. Ray Knight, the runner on second (and husband to golfer Nancy Lopez), scored the winning run, which set up a game seven. The Mets won it 8-5 to secure the World Series championship.

Fans called Buckner all sorts of things. That went on for years, and I still know people who blame him for the loss. I never did. First, it was game six. So what if Boston loses it? Go out and win game seven. They actually led in game seven 3-0 going into the bottom of the sixth, when Bruce Hurst and the bullpen blew it again. BTW, Buckner went 2 for 4 in game seven, scoring one run in the eighth inning. You want to blame somebody? I got a lot of suggestions. First, blame the Mets. They played good ball, got timely hitting, and took advantage of the opportunities offered. Second, blame the Boston pitching. Bruce Hurst won 2 games and Clemens pitched well despite getting no decisions. The rest of the staff was weak (and I’m being kind to some of them). Oil Can Boyd and Al Nipper had 7.00 ERA’s.  Bob Stanley threw a critical wild pitch and closer Schraldi was 0-2 (one save) with a 13.00 ERA. Also blame the manager, John McNamara. All season he had replaced the largely immobile Buckner with Dave Stapleton late in games with Boston leading. He had done so in all three of the Red Sox wins prior to game six. For some reason (and I’ve never heard a definitive answer from McNamara) he left Buckner in the game on the 25th. Some people say he wanted to give Buckner the thrill of being on the field when the Sox won the Series, but I’ve never heard McNamara actually say that.

For the Red Sox it took until 2004 to win a World Series. The Mets have never won another. They had a couple of chances but came up short against the Cardinals in the regular season, the Dodgers in the playoffs, and against the Yankees in the one World Series they managed to get back into. Ya know, maybe there’s a curse of Bill Buckner.

Baseball and Reunions

August 3, 2011

Am stepping away from my looks at game six for a couple of days. Nothing profound here, just an observation.

 We just had a big family reunion. Actually it was my wife’s family, I’m the in-law. We celebrated her mother’s 90th birthday and had a good time. Hopefully we can do it again in 10 years for her mother’s 100th.

What’s that got to do with baseball? Well, actually quite a lot. My son was there and we were able to spend some time talking about the sport and comparing notes on both this season and our memories of previous seasons. I was so wrapped up in the conversation that I failed to notice that my brother-in-law was sitting behind us listening intently. After my son and I were through with our conversation, the brother-in-law came up to me and told me he wished he could have had that kind of conversation with either of his two sons. I didn’t say much; certainly didn’t point out that one of his sons was about 10 feet away and he could go have the conversation right then if he wanted. He went on his way and left on Sunday with his family. As far as I know, baseball never came up again for him.

Baseball, more than either football or basketball, seems to be a family institution. We talk about it as family, we remember games we saw or heard as family. It seems to bind families together in a way that no other sport matches. Maybe it’s just my family and maybe other families do “family time” around football, but in my family it’s baseball that binds us together in a family way that only an essentially trivial moment can bind a family.

Ain’t that great.