Posts Tagged ‘Graig Nettles’

Game Six: The Manager Makes a Move

July 28, 2011

I don’t know anyone who claims game six of the 1981 World Series was a great game. Neither do I. It is, however, a good way to look at one of my obsessions, the effect a manager really has on a game.

Bob Lemon as Yankees manager

1981

Game six of the 1981 World Series occurred on 28 October in Yankee Stadium. The Los Angeles Dodgers had a 3 games to 2 lead on the Yanks and sent Burt Hooton to the mound. He was 0-1 for the Series. He faced former Dodgers ace Tommy John (of elbow fame).  John was 1-0. New York broke through in the bottom of the third when Willie Randolph homered off Hooton. The Dodgers responded by tying up the game in the top of the fourth.

The turning point of the game was the bottom of the fourth. With one out Graig Nettles doubled. The second out failed to advance him.  Eight hitter Larry Milbourne was walked intentionally, bringing up John. John was pitching reasonably well. He’d given up six hits, but only the one run and struck out two with no walks. Yankees manager Bob Lemon decided to pull him and send up a pinch hitter. Lemon decided that he wanted to get ahead in the fourth and let the bullpen take over. So he sent up Bobby Murcer to pinch hit. Murcer flied to right to end both the inning and Tommy John’s participation in the World Series. I remember being surprised at the time by Lemon’s decision. I also recall the announcers being stunned by the call. John was furious and you could see his frustration in the dugout. As an aside he was traded late the next season.

Lemon brought in reliever George Frazier to face the Dodgers. Frazier had been in two previous games, lost both, and given up four runs in just over three innings. In other words, the Dodgers could hit him. They did. They tallied three runs in the fifth to take a 4-1 lead and coasted from there. They added four more in he sixth and one in the eighth to win the game easily 9-2 (the Yanks got a late run in the sixth) and Frazier joined Lefty Williams of the 1919 Chicago White Sox as the only pitcher to lose three games in one World Series (and Williams, of course, was trying to lose).

I’ve spent a lot of time on this site trying to fathom the role of the manager. How really important is he? How much of a team’s success is talent? That sort of thing fascinates me. I still don’t know the exact answer to that, but this is one time when a managerial decision truly changed a game. John had done well in his other game, was doing well in this one, while Frazier had been awful. But Lemon made the change and things fell exactly as a Dodgers fan would want. Obviously down 3-2 Lemon wanted to take advantage of a situation and try to get a lead, a victory, and a chance at game seven. He can be faulted for taking out John, but the major mistake, it seems to me, was inserting Frazier. By the way, I don’t fault Lemon for using Murcer as the pinch hitter (although Murcer went 0-3 with a sacrifice in the Series).  Anyway, it came back to haunt Lemon in the game and later. He lasted fourteen games into the 1982 season before being fired. He never managed again.

The 50 Greatest Yankees

April 4, 2011

Recently ESPN New York did a poll of experts (and I’ll bet they stiffed every one of us) to determine the 50 Greatest New York Yankees. The list is available at their site or if you go through Google, it’s the first item. I won’t give you the entire list, but here’s the top 10 in order followed by some commentary: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Mariano Rivera, Yogi Berra, Derek Jeter, Whitey Ford, Red Ruffing, Bill Dickey. And for those curious but not willing to go look up the list, Don Mattingly finished 11th.

Now some comments:

1. Ruth finished first on every ballot. He was the only person to finish in the same spot on every ballot. That works for me.

2. That means that Gehrig did not universally come in second. A commentary on the  site indicates that a handful of people chose Rivera second, over Gehrig. I love Mariano Rivera. I can’t stand the Yankees, but I like him. He’s the greatest reliever ever and it’s not often you get to actually see the “greatest ever” actually do his job. That’s really tough for someone who thought Dennis Eckersley, who never played for the Yanks, was the greatest. But Rivera greater than Gehrig? Come now, folks. I’m not sure what my all-time top 10 greatest players would look like, but I’m reasonably sure Gehrig would be in it and Rivera wouldn’t.

3. Staying with Rivera, I think ranking him above Ford is wrong. Gimme a starter every time over a reliever, especially if that starter pitched prior to the 1980s (1950s and early 1960s for Ford), when a hurler was expected to go deep into the game. For his career Ford averaged seven innings in each start with 13036 batters faced. Rivera, in contrast, has faced only 4586 (as of 3 April). Additionally, of pitchers with 150 wins or more, Ford has the highest winning percentage. Basically it’s a question of who do you prefer, a starter or a reliever? I suppose some of you would opt for the reliever, but I’ll stick with the starter.

4. Red Ruffing is a great choice for the top 10. He was an absolute bust at Boston, moved to New York, and became a Hall of Famer. It’s not just that he had a better team behind him, his numbers in general get better. He wins more, gives up fewer runs, walks less, strikes out more, his hits to innings pitched ratio gets a lot better. That can’t all be Yankee Stadium and Phil Rizzuto (and in case you’re curious, Ruffing was 25 when the Yanks picked him up). He also has one of my favorite stats. In World Series play, he is 7-2 (losing in 1936 and 1942). That’s the same record as Bob Gibson, although Gibson has the distinction of losing his first and last games and winning the seven in between.

5. If you’re interested in putting together a full team, Tony Lazzeri was the highest rated second baseman and Graig Nettles the highest third baseman, making your all-time team Gehrig, Lazzeri, Jeter, Nettles the infield; Ruth, DiMaggio, Mantle the outfield; Berra the catcher; Ford the left-handed starter; Ruffing the right-handed starter; and Rivera the reliever.

So there you go. If you disagree with the list, complain to ESPN New York. All in all I thought it was a pretty fair listing.

A Hole in the Lineup

May 17, 2010

Did you ever notice how certain teams breed great or really good players at some positions and end up with less sterling players at others? I wonder why that is. It can’t be just a team having lousy scouts or dumb management, because it’s too widespread.  A couple of examples are in order.

The Yankees have produced an inordinate number of truly great catchers and second basemen. Take a look at Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey, Elston Howard, Thurman Munson, and Jorge Posada. The first two are in the Hall of Fame, the last one has a good chance of joining them. Now take a look at Yankees second basemen. There’s Tony Lazzeri and Joe Gordon, both Hall of Famers, and Bobby Richardson, Billy Martin, Willie Randolph, Robinson Cano, all of which would get support in some quarters. Not the greatest set of second basemen ever, but a heck of a good quality set. We could do the same for the outfield (minus left field) and on the mound.

Now  contrast those positions with the rest of the infield. At first base there’s one all-time great (Gehrig), one really good player (Mattingly) and the rest of the crew. Shortstop is the same way with Jeter and Ruzzuto being way above the rest of the pack (except for Bucky Dent for one afternoon in Boston). Then there’s third base. I guess I’d go with Graig Nettles (What, momma couldn’t decide if she wanted Greg or Craig?) and Red Rolfe as the cream of the crop, with maybe a nod to Clete Boyer’s glove, but you gotta admit any of them is a real step down.

I’m a Dodgers fan. They have the same problem. An outfield of Duke Snider, Carl Furillo, Zack Wheat, Willie Davis, Tommy Davis isn’t bad; and Campanella, Piazza, Scioscia, and Al Lopez is a pretty good collection of catchers; and the pitching staff can be great. But look at the infield. At short there’s PeeWee Reese and Maury Wills, and little else. At second there’s Jackie Robinson and  Jim Gilliam (who could play anywhere, but I’ve put him at second) along with a bunch of decent, but unspectacular other guys. First has Hodges and Garvey who are OK, but not true top rung players (and, yes, I’m a supporter of Hodges for the Hall). And again there’s third base. I suppose I’ll take Ron Cey as the best of the lot. He was a good enough player, probably the best of the 1970s infield crew, but if that’s the best you can do, well…

I can go through team after team and do the same thing. Look at the Phillies at first base. Howard may be their best ever and he hasn’t played 10 years yet. Ditto Chase Utley.

I have no idea why this is so. Maybe there’s just a lack of really good quality players at certain positions. Maybe it’s the chance in emphasis in the way a position is played (take a look at the difference in second and third basemen between 1915 and 1965). Maybe some teams really aren’t very good at spotting talent at certain positions. I don’t know the answer, I merely point out the phenomena.