Posts Tagged ‘Willie Randolph’

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 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.