Posts Tagged ‘Chuck Knoblauch’

The Best World Series I Ever Saw: Game 7 and the Realm of Legend

April 29, 2016

All this work on the 1991 World Series ultimately had to come to game seven. It was, admittedly, a great game, one of the truly finest World Series games ever. By this point it’s entered the realm of Legend and Mythology.

Jack Morris

Jack Morris

Game 7

On 27 October 1991 Atlanta and Minnesota squared off in the final game of the World Series. The Twins started game one pitcher Jack Morris while the Braves had John Smoltz on the mound. They proceeded to engage in one of the great pitching duels in World Series history.

Over the first five innings Morris gave up five hits and a walk with one batter reaching third and not scoring. Smoltz was as good giving up four hits and hitting a batter. As with Morris, he allowed only one man to reach third and that man stayed there.

The sixth and seventh followed in the pattern of the first five innings. In many ways the key moment came in the top of the eighth. Lonnie Smith singled. Terry Pendleton doubled sending Smith to third. Almost everyone agreed Smith should have scored, but a decoy play by Minnesota middle infielders Chuck Knoblauch and Greg Gagne kept him at third. A grounder to first recorded the first out without Smith being able to score. An intentional walk loaded the bases. That brought up Sid Bream who hit one right at Twins first sacker Kent Hrbek. Hrbek fired the ball to catcher Brian Harper for the second out and Harper fired it back to Hrbek for a three-two-three double play that ended the inning and may have been, Kirby Puckett’s great catch in game six not withstanding, the defensive play of the Series.

In the bottom of the eighth a pair of singles and a fly gave Minnesota two on and one out when the Braves pulled Smoltz. His line for the night was no runs, six hits, a walk, and four strikeouts. In came Mike Stanton, who’d pitched well so far. An intentional walk loaded the bases, then a double play liner to second ended the Twins threat.

Morris set down the Braves in order in the ninth. A pair of singles in the bottom of the ninth led to Stanton’s removal and the arrival of closer Alejandro Pena. He got out of it with a double play and a strikeout. After Morris repeated his ninth inning performance in the tenth, Minnesota came to bat in the bottom of the tenth.

Dan Gladden greeted Pena with a bloop hit to left center. When it fell between the fielders, Gladden, who had speed, took off for second and was safe. Knoblauch sacrificed him to third. That brought up Kirby Puckett who was walked intentionally to set up a double play. A second intentional walk to Hrbek loaded the bases and set up a force at home. The Twins then sent up pinch hitter Gene Larkin. With the Atlanta outfield playing shallow, Larkin lifted a fly to left center than plated Gladden with both the game and the Series winning run.

Larkin singles

Larkin singles

It was an absolutely terrific Series. Five games were won by the winning team in their last at bat. Three games went into extra innings. Only two games were won by more than one run. The Twins had eight home runs and four triples while hitting .232 (.398 slugging) and scored 24 runs. The Braves also had eight home runs and four triples, but hit higher at .253 (.422 slugging) and scored 29 runs (almost half in the 14-5 blowout that was game five). Minnesota’s ERA was 3.74, again much of it because of game five, while walking 26 and striking out 39. Atlanta’s staff was even better, showing signs of the dominant staff of later years. Their ERA was 2.89 with 21 walks and 48 strikeouts. Morris took the MVP award.

Normally I would wrap up one of these looks at a World Series at this point, but I’d like to take a few lines and comment on the way game 7 in 1991 has moved beyond normal World Series hype to take on a bit of cultural legend and myth. There are a number of reasons for this. First, it was a heck of a game. It was well-played, it was dramatic, it went into extra innings, it went into extra innings as a double shutout. There was the decoy play; there was the three-two-three double play. Like I said, a heck of a game. Second, it occurred just before the strike and was seen as baseball at its purest (never mind it used a DH and was played indoors on artificial turf). Thirdly, for three years the Twins stood as the last American team to win the World Series and they’d done it in a terrific game. Don’t forget that Toronto won the next two World Series’ and that 1994 was the lost Series (You know, you could make a pretty good TV show outta something called “The Lost Series”). Next, it was a great ending to an overall great World Series. And it has, over the intervening years become much of the lynchpin for Jack Morris’ Hall of Fame campaign. That’s kind of a shame. Morris won a lot of games, had a ton of strikeouts, pitched a no-hitter, had three rings. All of that is as important as game 7 in making the case for or against including him in the Hall of Fame. It’s like making Sandy Koufax’s case rest on game 7 in 1965 (also against the Twins, by the way) or resting Carlton Fisk’s case on game six in 1975. Whether you think either or both belong in the Hall of Fame or not, you have to make your case based on the totality of their career. The same holds true for Morris.

It think that without the legend and the mythology game 7 stands as a great game. I’m not sure it was actually better than game 6 of the same Series, but it was game 7, the ultimate deciding game. Was it the greatest game ever played? Probably not, but it easily stands in the top half-dozen or so even without the mythology that goes with it. Back a few years ago MLB.com did a series trying to identify the 20 greatest games of the last 50 years. Game 7, 1991 placed second to game 6 of the 1975 World Series. Having watched both I think game 6 of 1975 is overrated, but then I prefer great pitching to hitting. My choice for greatest game of my lifetime has to be Larsen’s game 5 performance in the 1956 World Series (I got home from school early enough to see the last couple of innings.).

 

 

 

The Best World Series I Ever Saw: Blowout and the Puckett Show

April 27, 2016

With the World Series tied two games each in 1991, the baseball season came down to a best of three set of games with Minnesota holding home field. But before the teams could return to Minneapolis, there was one game left in Atlanta.

Tom Glavine

Tom Glavine

Game 5

The game of 24 October became the only blowout of the Series. The Braves lit up Twins starter Kevin Tapani for four runs in four innings (has kind of a nice symmetry doesn’t it?). He’d pitched well enough through three innings (one hit, one walk) before Atlanta unloaded in the fourth. Dave Justice hit a two run home run. A walk, a single and an interference call put a man on for Mark Lemke who tripled to score the run. Rafael Belliard followed with a double to make the score 4-0. The Braves got another on a pair of singles and a force out in the fifth to up the tally to 5-0.

Braves starter Tom Glavine was pitching well (three hits and no walks) going into the top of the sixth. He never got to the seventh. He walked four men in the sixth and gave up a single. That, plus a ground out, gave Minnesota three runs and sent Glavine to the showers.

With the score 5-3 fans were getting what was, for this Series, a fairly typical game. But for this contest, no one was finished scoring. In the seventh and eighth Atlanta exploded for nine runs (six in the seventh, three in the eighth) including home runs by Lonnie Smith and Brian Hunter and triples by Mark Lemke and Ron Gant. The Twins got single runs in both the eighth and ninth that included triples by Al Newman and Dan Gladden. The final score was 14-5 and Atlanta now led the Series three games to two. For the game the two teams combined for five triples.

Kirby Puckett, game 6

Kirby Puckett, game 6

Game 6

With Atlanta ahead three games to two, the 1991 World Series moved to Minnesota for the final two games. Although down by a game and facing elimination, the Twins had one significant advantage, they’d never lost a World Series game in the Metrodome (6-0). They got another advantage when the Braves made the mistake of pitching to Kirby Puckett.

The Twins started Scott Erickson in game six while the Braves countered with Steve Avery. In the very first inning Puckett struck. With Chuck Knoblauch on, Puckett tripled (another triple for the Series) to score the game’s first run. He later scored the second run on a Shane Mack single.

In the top of the third Erickson hit a batter, then a force moved him to second. Up came Ron Gant, who smashed a drive into deep left center. Unfortunately for the Braves and Gant, Puckett played center. By 1991 Kirby Puckett was no longer slender (I’m not sure he was ever actually slender). He was, not to put too fine a point on it, overweight, especially in the hindquarters. But people forget that when he came up he was a leadoff hitter with decent speed. He raced across center, leaped at the fence and caught the ball as it was about to hit the Plexiglas and bounce around for God knows how many bases. The runner didn’t score and Erickson got the third out on a weak tapper to first.

Puckett's catch

Puckett’s catch

In the top of the fifth the Braves tied the score when Rafael Belliard singled and Terry Pendleton homered. But Puckett was due up in the bottom of the fifth. Dan Gladden singled, stole second, went to third on a fly. All that brought up Puckett who lifted a long fly that scored Gladden on a sacrifice and put the Twins ahead 3-2. In the seventh, Atlanta got a run to tie the game at 3-3.

And it stayed that way for the rest of regulation. Puckett singled in the eighth, stole second, but didn’t score. Atlanta had to consider that a minor victory. In the top of the eleventh a caught stealing and two pop ups set the Braves down in order. To start the bottom of the eleventh, they brought in Charlie Liebrandt to pitch. He drew Puckett leading off. Liebrandt threw four pitches. Puckett parked the last one in the stands for a 4-3 Twins victory and a necessary game seven. And the Twins had still never lost a World Series game in the Metrodome.

Over the years Puckett’s performance in game six has been lost behind the mythology that became game seven. That’s a great shame. Between the hitting and the run saving, and possibly game saving, grab in left center Kirby Puckett had one of the great World Series performances ever.

 

 

 

The Best World Series I Ever Saw: Two Games in Atlanta

April 25, 2016

Down two games to none, the Atlanta Braves picked up home field advantage for the next three games of the 1991 World Series. The games in Atlanta would produce, in its first two games, two nail-biters.

David Justice

David Justice

Game 3

The third game of the World Series was held 22 October 1991. Twins 20 game winner Scott Erickson faced Braves lefty Steve Avery. Avery started off rocky by giving up a triple to Minnesota leadoff man Dan Gladden. A Chuck Knoblauch fly plated him, but Atlanta got out of the inning without further damage. The Braves got the run back in the bottom of the second with a two out walk to catcher Greg Olson followed by consecutive singles to bring him home.

In the bottom of the fourth, Dave Justice, whose error in game two cost Atlanta a run, smacked a homer to put the Braves ahead 2-1. In the bottom of the fifth they added another run on a Lonnie Smith home run. Up 3-1,  Terry Pendleton Walked and went to second on a wild pitch. An error sent him to third and sent Erickson to the bench in favor of David West, who proceeded to walk the bases full. A further walk scored Pendleton and brought in Terry Leach, who finally got the third out.

Down 4-1, the Twins fought back in the seventh and eighth innings. A Kirby Puckett home run leading off the seventh made the scored 4-2, then in the top of the eighth catcher Brian Harper reached on an error and came home on a two run homer by Chili Davis that knotted the score.

And it stayed that way through the ninth, through the tenth, through the eleventh. Men were on base, but no one came home. In the twelfth the Twins loaded the bases, but had depleted their bench. They sent relief ace Rick Aguilera to bat with two outs. He lined out to center. In the bottom of the inning Justice singled with one out and stole second. A walk brought up Mark Lemke, who singled home the winning run.

Atlanta won 5-4 in twelve innings to halve the Twins lead in games. Despite two errors (Minnesota had one), they’d hung in to finally show they could win a game. Twins manager Tom Kelly played his entire bench and was later criticized for having to bat Aguilera in the last inning.

Mark Lemke

Mark Lemke

Game 4

On 23 October 1991, Minnesota and Atlanta squared off in game four of the World Series. The Twins sent game one winner Jack Morris back to the mound, while the Braves countered with John Smoltz, starting his first Series game.

Again, the Twins broke on top. A Brian Harper double and a Mike Pagliarulo single plated the first run of the game in the second inning. It held up until the bottom of the third when Terry Pendleton launched a homer to tie the game.

There things stayed through the sixth. In the top of the seventh, with one out, Pagliarulo hit a home run. An out later the Twins pulled Morris for pinch hitter Gene Larkin. He grounded out to end the inning. In came reliever Carl Willis to take over for Morris. He got two outs before Lonnie Smith tied the game with another home run, making three total for the game.

And there it stayed into the bottom of the ninth. With one out Mark Lemke tripled to put the winning run 90 feet from pay dirt. An intentional walk set up a potential double play which pinch hitter Jerry Willard promptly made moot by sending a sacrifice fly to right that scored Lemke with the winning run and tied up the World Series two games each. Lost in the shuffle was a great hitting performance by Pagliarulo in a losing cause and a fine two inning shutdown in the eighth and ninth by Braves reliever Mike Stanton, who took the win.

Game five was scheduled for the following day.

The Best World Series I Ever Saw: Opening Round in Minnesota

April 21, 2016

After a short detour, it’s time to get back to 1991.

The first two games of the 1991 World Series were scheduled for Minneapolis in the Metrodome. It was a place of quirks with a “baggie” in the outfield, Plexiglas in the outfield, and an inflatable roof. It was also the place that saw two excellent games and one controversial play.

Greg Gagne

Greg Gagne

Game 1

The first game was played 19 October with Twins pitcher Jack Morris facing Charlie Leibrandt. Both hurlers got through the first two innings giving up a couple of hits, but allowing no runs. That changed in the bottom of the third when Dan Gladden singled with two outs. He stole second and came home on a Chuck Knoblaugh single for the Series’ first run. That was all until the bottom of the fifth. A Kent Hrbek double and a Scott Leius single put runners on first and third for nine hitter Greg Gagne. He’d hit eight home runs all season, but grabbed a Leibrandt pitch and drove it to left field to put Minnesota up 4-1 and send Leibrandt to the showers.

It was all Morris would need. He gave up single runs in both the sixth and the eighth, while Hrbek contributed another Twins run with a home run in the bottom of the sixth. It made the final score 5-2 and put Minnesota up one game to none. For his career, Gagne managed four home runs in 12 postseason games for the Twins (the 1991 homer was his last postseason home run) while averaging only 10 a season for his career. For Morris it was a typical outing. He gave up two runs on six hits, and four walks while striking out three. All six hits were singles.

For the Series it was to be the only game of the first four decided by more than one run. It set the stage for an excellent game two, a game that led to one of the Series’ most controversial plays.

Wrestlemania

WrestleMania

Game 2

On 20 October, Minnesota hosted game two of the World Series. The hometown Twins sent Kevin Tapani to the mound in hops of taking a 2-0 lead in games, while Atlanta countered with Tom Glavine, whose job was to help tie up the Series.

Glavine was in trouble from the first. He managed to coax a fly from Minnesota leadoff hitter Dan Gladden, but right fielder Dave Justice misplayed it into a double. Then Glavine walked Chuck Knoblauch. Kirby Puckett grounded to third. Terry Pendleton got the ball, stepped on third, tossed to first, and picked up a double play that left Knoblauch alone on second. With two outs, Kent Hrbek smashed a two-run homer to left center to put the Twins up 2-0.

In the top of the second, Justice helped make up for his error with a single. He went to third on a double and scored on a sacrifice fly by Brian Hunter. That put the Braves a run closer. It stayed that way into the top of the third when one of the most controversial plays in World Series history occurred.

With one out, Lonnie Smith reached first on an error. A second out brought up Ron Gant. Gant singled to left field and rounded first wide. Gladden, the left fielder, threw to Tapani, cutting off on the mound. Seeing Gant turn wide, Tapani threw to first baseman Hrbek covering the bag. Gant dashed back and collided with Hrbek. In the process Hrbek lifted Gant off the base while holding the ball. The umpires ruled Gant out to end the inning. Atlanta argued that Hrbek had intentionally pulled Gant off the bag and thus Gant was safe at first while Smith was on third. Ultimately the umps conferred and agreed that Hrbek had been unable to maintain balance in the collision and had not purposefully pulled Gant off the bag. That made for three out and the inning was over.

It did matter. In the top of the fifth, the Braves picked up a tying run on a double, ground out, and sacrifice. That tied the score and left Braves fans wondering what might have happened had Gant been safe with Smith on third.

The score remained tied into the bottom of the eighth. Scott Leius, Twins third baseman, whose error had put Smith on in the third inning, led off. He drove a home run to left center to put Minnesota ahead with one inning to play. Twins reliever Rick Aguilera entered the game in the ninth. He struck out one, allowed a single, then struck out the final two Braves to end the game and leave Atlanta fans wondering what would have been had “WrestleMania” not broken out at a baseball game.

The Twins were ahead two games to none with the Series moving to Atlanta. The Braves now had three consecutive home games to tie up the Series or go ahead.

 

The Best World Series I Ever Saw: Minnesota

April 17, 2016
Inside the Metrodome, Minneapolis

Inside the Metrodome, Minneapolis

My World Series memories go back into the 1950s. Some of them are pretty vague, but they’re still locked away somewhere in my brain and come back every so often. So I missed some of the great World Series’ of the 1910s and the 1920s and even the ’30s and ’40s. Some of those may have been the greatest World Series ever played, but I missed them. For my money in my lifetime the best I ever saw was in 1991. It’s been overshadowed by its own game seven and the controversy over Jack Morris’ qualifications for the Hall of Fame, but 1991 was more than Morris and game seven.

The 1990 Minnesota Twins finished dead last. They recovered and won the American League West in 1991, then ran past the Blue Jays to win the pennant. Manager Tom Kelly’s gang won 95 games by leading the AL in average, OBP, and hits while coming in second in slugging, OPS, and total bases. They were third in triples, fourth in runs, and sixth in home runs. The staff was second in ERA and in saves, third in runs allowed and fourth in shutouts.

The infield consisted of long-time Twin Kent Hrbek, rookie (and later Rookie of the Year) Chuck Knoblauch, Greg Gagne, and a platoon system at third. Hrbek was an underrated first baseman whose 20 home runs were second on the team. His 89 RBIs also tied for second and, in a rarity for modern hitters, walked more (67) times than he struck out (48). Knoblauch filled a hole Minnesota had for a while by playing a decent second (he’d not yet forgotten how to throw to first). He also walked more than he struck out (59-40) and led the team with 25 stolen bases. Gagne made only nine errors all season at short, hit .265, and was tied for fourth in stolen bases. Mike Pagliarulo was the left handed hitting part of the third base platoon. He’d come over from the Yankees and hit .279 in 365 at bats. Scott Leius was the righty at third. He hit .286. Between them they gave the team 11 home runs and 56 RBIs. Al Newman and Gene Larkin did much of the backup work in the infield. Newman was noted more has a pinch runner than either a hitter or fielder but had been caught more often (five times) than he’d been successful (four times) in stealing a base. Larkin hit .286, Newman a buck-91. Both also walked more than they struck out. Hrbek, Knoblauch, and Larkin had OPS+ numbers of 100 or better (Knoblauch’s 125 was high) and Knoblauch’s 2.8 WAR barely topped Hrbek’s 2.7 to lead the infield.

The outfield was, from left around to right, patrolled by Dan Gladden, Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett, and Shane Mack. Gladden, a San Francisco refugee, led off and was dead last of the starters with a .306 OBP and his .356 slugging percentage was second lowest among starters (ahead of only Knoblauch). He wasn’t a bad outfielder and had some speed on the bases. His 15 stolen bases were second on the team, but he was a strange choice as a leadoff hitter (although in defense of Tom Kelly it worked). Puckett hit .319 with 15 home runs, 89 RBIs, and 195 hits. All were either first or second on the team. As usual he didn’t walk much (my son used to say he never met a pitch he didn’t like) and he was a competent center fielder who, despite his weight, could run some. In game six he would prove to be a spectacular fielder. Mack was in the game for his bat. It’s not like he was an awful outfielder, but his .977 fielding percentage wasn’t all that good for a big leaguer. He made up for it by hitting .310, putting up 74 RBIs, and leading the position players with a 140 OPS+ and a 5.0 WAR. Randy Bush and Pedro Munoz did most of the outfield backup. Between them they had 13 home runs, 49 RBIs, and Bush hit .303.

Chili Davis, another Giants cast off, was the designated hitter. He led the team with both 93 RBIs and 29 home runs. He also led the team with 34 doubles and his 141 OPS+ was a point higher than Mack’s, although his WAR was only 3.3.

Brain Harper did the catching. He was another player in the game for his bat. He was third in errors and second in stolen bases allowed, but he hit .311, second to Puckett on the team. There were 10 home runs, 69 RBIs, and a 111 OPS+ to help make up for his lack of glove.

The staff was new. Of the team that won the 1987 World Series, none of the main pitchers remained. The primary starters were led by Jack Morris, who has by now become famous for nothing except his game 7 performance. He was a star in the era, with a no hitter and a World Series ring from 1984. He was also famous for having more pitching wins than any other pitcher in the 1980s. In 1991 he was 36 and went 18-12 with a team leading 163 strikeouts. Kevin Tapani was 16-9 and had the only ERA under 3.00 (he was 2.99). His 135 strikeouts were second on the team to Morris and his 6.8 WAR led the team. Scott Erickson was a 20 game winner (20-8) over 204 innings. His ERA was 3.18, but had been going up as the season wound down. Allan Anderson was 5-11, the only lefty among the starters, and the only other pitcher to start 20 games. Rick Aguilera was the stopper. He’d managed 42 saves and a 2.35 ERA over 69 innings. He had a 1.072 WHIP. Steve Bedrosian managed six saves, and Mark Guthrie had started 12 games in a sport starter role.

The Twins had fallen a long way from their 1987 championship, but rebounded in 1991. In some quarters they were favored, in other they were underdogs. Few people bothered to point out that they had a secret weapon. They would play four games in the Metrodome. In the history of the Twins, they were 0-6 on the road in the World Series, 7-1 at home.

 

Adios, Jorge

January 13, 2012

Jorge Posada

Now that I expended all my Spanish, except for words like Taco, burrito, and refried beans, on the title, it’s time to bid farewell to Yankees catcher Jorge Posada. Never been a great fan of either the Yankees or Posada, but it’s tough to overlook his accomplishments. So now the Core Four are down to the Dynamic Duo (or is that Batman and Robin?).

I’ve always been sure that Posada was overlooked when it came to the great Yankees teams of 1996-2010. This was Derek Jeter’s team. Or it was Mariano Rivera’s team. Posada sometimes seemed to be the guy who wasn’t Joe Girardi. That’s kind of a shame. He was not just good, but was a key part of the team. He wasn’t Bernie Williams cool or Paul O’Neil fiery or Tino Martinez clutch or even Chuck Knoblauch error-prone. He was, however, always there, always contributing, always available.

In some ways he wasn’t a typical Yankees catcher. He wrote children’s books (can you seriously image Yogi Berra doing that?). I read one. It was pretty good (Heck, I even understood it). He was, despite a notable accent, quite articulate. He was a major conduit into the Hispanic community.

Part of  his problem was that he was almost never the best catcher of the era. For the last decade of the 20th Century both Mike Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez were better and for much of the first few years of the 21st that was still true. By the time they were fading there was Joe Mauer. And he was also a Yankees catcher. Consider this pedigree: Wally Schang, Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Thurman Munson. Quite a legacy to live up to, right? By and large I thought Posada lived up to it quite well. So he wasn’t Yogi or he wasn’t Dickey. Well, almost no one else has ever been either, but to be mentioned with them is quite a feat. And that’s not taking into account that his wife  looks like this:

Laura Posada

So from a non-fan of the Yankees, Adios,  Jorge. You were better than we anti-Yankees types wished. You were also better than we baseball fans could have hoped for. Enjoy your retirement.

The Yankees Way at Second

June 24, 2011

Some teams seem to stockpile players at one position. Take a look at the Giants and their history of great pitchers as an example. For the Yankees there are three positions like that: Center Field, Catcher, and Second Base. I recognize they’ve had some pretty good players at other positions, but when you have Ruth and Gehrig it’s such a fall off to whoever you pick as the second best guy at the position that you tend to overlook the other players in right field and at first. A while back I did a look at the Yankees center field history, so in keeping with a look at second base, here’s a brief look at the quality of Yankees second basemen since 1921.

When the Yankees won their first pennant in 1921 the second baseman was Aaron Ward. He was a decent player, hitting .300 that year with five home runs. He’s most famous for making the final out in the Series by trying to reach third on a ground out to second (the first time a World Series ended on a double play). He stayed in New York through the 1922 pennant and the first championship of 1923, got hurt in 1924, didn’t bounce back well in 1925 and yielded his place to Tony Lazzeri in 1926.

Lazzeri is the first of the Yankees Hall of Fame second sackers. He’s most famous (or infamous depending on your point of view) for striking out with the bases loaded in game seven of the 1926 World Series (he led the American League in striking out in 1926 with 96). He went on to be a key player in the Murderer’s Row Yankees of 1926-32 and in the first couple of years of the 1936-42 Bronx Bombers. He hit well, was OK in the field, and had a decent World Series record (4 home runs, 19 RBIs in 30 games). In 1938 he was sent to Chicago where he helped the Cubs to a World Series (against the Yankees). He went o-2 in two pinch hit tries.

The Yankees replaced him with their second Hall of Fame second baseman, Joe Gordon. As good as Lazzeri had been, Gordon was better. He hit better, had more power, and was a considerably better second baseman. He won a controversial MVP in 1942, slumped in ’43, then went off to war in 1944 and 1945. He was back in New York in 1946, did poorly, and went to Cleveland the next season. As with Lazzeri, he helped his new team to a pennant, although in took a year (1948) to get to the top. And unlike Lazzeri’s Cubs, the Indians won.

Snuffy Stirnweiss took over for the war years, remaining through most of the 1940s. He was terrific against wartime pitching, not so great postwar. Jerry Coleman replaced him. Coleman was a good glove, no stick player who held the job until Billy Martin arrived.

Martin is much more controversial today than he was when he played for the Yankees. He had a great 1952 World Series, beating the Dodgers pretty much single-handedly (if only he coulda pitched). He stayed at second through the bulk of the 1950s, giving way to Bobby Richardson in the late 1950s. Richardson was another Coleman. He was a good second baseman and hit well enough to eventually lead off for the Yankees through the first half of the 1960s. He hit well, but as a leadoff hitter he was problematic. He never walked and on a team that relied on power over speed, had no power.

As with the rest of the Yankees in the last half of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s, the second basemen were not players particularly worth remembering (unless you’re a relative). That changed with Willie Randolph. Randolph played the position well, hit well, ran the bases well (again without stealing a lot of bases), and was a critical member of a Yankees revival that lasted into the mid-1980’s. His later stint with the Mets as a manager has damaged his reputation to some degree, but as a player he was very good. He’s not in the Hall of Fame, maybe shouldn’t be, but was a truly fine player.

The Yanks went into another funk that lasted into the middle 1990s. They picked up a  number of good players, drafted some others, and went on to become the formidable force they are today. One of the pickups was Chuck Knoblauch. He hit well, gave them a leadoff hitter with some power, decent speed, and until he forgot how to throw the ball, a pretty fair second baseman. He was replaced by Alfonso Soriano, who ended up in Chicago and in the outfield for a reason. Robinson Cano is the new guy and he’s a throwback to the Lazzeri/Gordon years of a second baseman who can hit and hit for power. I hate to jinx the guy, but he may end up being the best Yankees second sacker ever.

There’s a brief rundown of Yankees second basemen in their glory years. It’s a fairly formidable list. I can think of very few teams that boast two great second basemen. The Yanks have that many, plus a number of above average ones and one current player who may surpass them all. No wonder New York wins a lot.

The “Core Four”

December 9, 2010

The "Core Four"

Recently some genius’ have begun referring to four Yankees players as “The Core Four”: Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, and Mariano Rivera. It’s supposed to be a reference to how important they have been to the Yankees winning ways in the last fifteen or so years. It’s catchy, but because it totally ignores the contributions of a number of other players, it’s utter nonsense.

The argument goes that these four players are the “core” of Yankees teams that have won five World Series. First, that’s difficult to sustain if you know that Posada played only eight games in 1996 (the first of the five World Series championships), none in the postseason, and that Rivera was the setup man, not the closer in 1996 (John Wetteland was both closer and Series MVP). It’s kind of like giving Sandy Koufax credit for the Dodgers winning in 1955 when he pitched in only 42 innings over 12 games and five starts (“Boy are we lucky we had him. We woulda never won the damned thing if he wasn’t on the roster.”)  Most importantly it completely downplays the contribution of other players, a sort of second “core four” (actually five).

As Posada was no factor in the 1996 World Series championship, and Rivera’s contribution was important, but not primary, we may only consider the “core four” as winning in 1998, 1999, 2000, and after a significant break, 2009.  There are another five that may be considered equally crucial in winning the 1998-2000 championships: Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez, Chuck Knoblauch, Scott Brosius, and Paul O’Neill (this without reference to pitchers). All five participated in the same three wins as the “core four” (and Williams, Martinez, and O’Neill made the 1996 Series also). I question how their contributions can be considered less than the so-called “Core Four.”

You might also argue that once Williams, Knoblauch, Martinez, Brosius, and O’Neill left, the “Core Four” were unable to secure a World Series championship until the arrival of a second four: Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Damon, and Mark Teixeira. Perhaps it is those four that made the difference. In fact, following this idea to its conclusion, one could argue that the key player was Teixeira. After all the “core four” couldn’t win until he arrived. Or maybe it was Melky Cabrera. Heck, the Yanks didn’t win until he took over in center. Or maybe it’s really all about Andy Pettitte. Pettitte left after the 2003 Series loss and the Yankees failed to make a World Series until 2009. Meanwhile, Pettitte went to Houston, a team that went to the World Series in 2005 for the first time ever, then returned to New York in 2008, exactly one season prior to the last Yankees championship. So maybe Pettitte, not the “Core Four,” is the key.

Now you can rightly argue the idea that Teixeira (or Cabrera) was the crucial element is silly and I wouldn’t complain.  I wouldn’t mind if you laughed at the idea that it was all Pettitte. Because the point is that it requires a lot of good players to win, not just a “core four.”  With no loss of respect to the “Core Four”, how about a little credit to the rest of the team Yankees fans? It’s been a heck of a run and a lot of guys have been responsible for the success (several of which I didn’t name).

The Way to Win: Observations

August 13, 2010

This is the final post in the series. I want to make a few observations about what the series is and isn’t. Let me begin by saying what prompted it.

I noted the comments about the Yankees “Core Four” (Jeter, Pettitte, Posada, Rivera in alphabetical order). I thought it was catchy, but immediately decided it was incorrect. The “Core Four” should be the core about eight or nine. Because the late 1990’s dynasty that ended in Phoenix in 2001 (the 2003 team is not, in my opinion part of that dynasty) had more than those four as significant members of the dynasy. There was Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill, Chuck Knoblauch, Tino Martinez, David Cone, Joe Girardi, and of course manager Joe Torre who were significant contributers to those winning teams. When I sat down and listed all the significant parts I decided to compare them with the other great Yankees dynasties of the past (1920s, 1930s, 1950s, 1970s). I simply wrote down the major players from the 1996-2001 team, then listed beside them the same position players for the other teams. It became fairly obvious that all the teams were a lot alike. They were all built very much the same. So I wondered if that worked for other dynasties as well.  As I’m spending a lot of time this year looking at the 1910 season, I especially wondered about the A’s team of that year. I decided to find out. I looked at a number of other teams (72-74 A’s, 29-31 A’s, 10-14 A’s, 57-59 Braves, 06-10 Cubs, 01-03 Pirates, 62-66 Dodgers). Turns out all of them had the same broad characteristics as the Yankees.

Let me emphasize these are broad characteristics and do not look at the details of the teams. In other words, I wasn’t looking at the stats so much as the quality of the players involved. This is, if you will, a macro look at the teams, not a micro look. Let me also emphasize that this is not a rigid formula to win. I don’t think there really is a good one of those (except maybe to keep your best players healthy). Back about 20 years or so I looked for the baseball stat that was the best predictor of getting to a World Series. I found it to be opponent’s runs. That was the stat the World Series contenders most frequently led their league in on a yearly basis. Don’t know if that’s still true (and there are new stats that weren’t available to check then). This current overview of mine is not meant to be something you can hang your hat on and say this is the winner this season.

Having said all that, I’ve begun to realize that a properly constituted team of stars, good players, and role players has a good chance of winning. Teams of all-stars don’t do it (Except, in the 20th Century,  for the 1930s Negro League Crawfords, and even they had role players.). It also helps to have a fluke; what I call the “one year wonder” rule. You can never account ahead of time for a Shane Spencer (of the 1990s Yankees) to have a short run that will help the team to victory or a Hurricane Hazle (of the Braves) to put you over the top. But they do happen and good teams take advantage of them.

Hope you’ve enjoyed the series and will look at teams a little differently now.